Since the outbreak of the pandemic, every action of governments around the world has been scrutinized.
The media and the common man are each monitoring responses to the pandemic, and whether or not there is discrimination on the basis of economic status. Is the government treating the affluent any differently from ordinary citizens?
Having flown back to Jeddah on a repatriation flight from the UK, and having spent the mandatory period in quarantine under the supervision of the Saudi Health Ministry, I can confidently say as a Saudi that our government treats everybody without any discrimination, and gives priority to the welfare of its citizens over every other thing.
The Saudi government announced repatriation operations in mid-April. Priority was given to those who were visiting foreign countries for tourism or medical purposes, and were left stranded due to the pandemic.
Saudi embassies around the world arranged hotel accommodation for those who needed it. I applied from London, and a free flight was assigned to me within a month. The process was clear and simple. During my flight back, masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant and packaged food were all supplied. What is ubiquitously scarce around the world suddenly became essential for every passenger.
Upon arrival, passengers were swiftly escorted into the main arrival lobby. In the lobby, we were greeted by a medical team and our temperatures were checked. Infrared cameras were set up before passport control to ensure no patients had fevers; one of the symptoms of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Porters neatly placed our luggage into piles and we were allowed to collect our belongings once we passed passport control. Once collected, we were guided toward a large queue of buses where awaited our arrival. Drivers had to ensure our luggage was packed and that each passenger had a single row to himself to ensure social distancing. Guided by a police escort, we arrived at our accommodation. In my case, I was placed in a hotel in downtown Jeddah.
Once checked into the hotel, I was greeted with a letter from the hotel manager and the Ministry of Health, outlining the length of my quarantine, testing procedures, and services that were offered.
My quarantine was scheduled to last for 7 days, granted my COVID-19 tests came back negative, with an additional 7 days back at home with my family. Testing would occur one day after arrival, then again, the day before departure. An app provided by the ministry informed us of our test results and acted as a platform to communicate with their representatives.
As it was Ramadan, we were given two meals a day, with snacks in between. Between these meals, a fruit platter, along with mixed nuts, chocolates and biscuits, was also provided. Laundry services worked every day and proved useful as the clothes that most of us travelled in were at risk of carrying the virus. For any other queries or needs, all we simply had to do was dial zero on the hotel phone, and we were greeted with a friendly health care worker.
Furthermore, every day a ministry representative would call us asking about our mental and physical health.
What made my experience in this quarantine so memorable, safe, and surprisingly enjoyable was not just the myriad of workers excelling in their respective roles, but it was knowing that in times of distress, the Saudi government will take care of their citizens and residents alike.
Siraj Y. Abualnaja is a Saudi-British medical student at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) with a degree in neuroscience. He has helped set up the first student-led magazine at QMUL, Circadian Magazine, exclusively for medical and dental students.