RIYADH: Following the countrywide lockdown to check the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Saudi Arabia is taking measures to ensure a smooth return to a normal life. Nonessential businesses such as gyms and salons are thrilled to be able to serve clients once more.
Despite ending the lockdown and lifting of the curfew, the Ministry of Health has urged people to continue following precautions as the pandemic is far from over.
The ministry has made the use of face masks in public places mandatory, with a fine of SR1,000 ($270) for failing to do so. In commercial establishments, employees of shops, gyms and salons will have to wear gloves and masks. All businesses must ensure proper hygiene and regular disinfecting of their spaces.
With such strict guidelines in place, employees of nonessential businesses feel confident that they can keep their clients or customers safe.
Mohamed Al-Hashemi, country manager of Majid Al-Futtaim Ventures in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News that ticket sales for their cinema chain, Vox Cinemas, exceeded expectations for their post-lockdown launch. He attributes this, at least in part, to the implementation of rigorous rules.
“We have multiple safety protocols in place which we follow strictly in all of our locations, as well as new policies such as providing contactless payments, disinfecting our theaters after each show, and the introduction of our ‘social distancing ambassadors’ who ensure that visitors are maintaining a distance. Our primary goal is to return with caution,” he said, referring to the slogan coined by the Ministry of Health in its campaign for the return to normal life.
Manal Al-Qahtani, an instructor at Interval gym in Riyadh, said that she felt safe enough to return to work knowing that the gym was using the best possible products to keep the place clean.
She also encouraged clients to come, as they are following all the necessary protocols put in place by the government. “We provide masks and sanitizers for all the clients,” she added.
Ala’a Al-Habib, an employee of Riyadh-based Nail Corner, spoke about the safety procedures in place at her workplace that made her feel safe enough to continue going to work without fear.
“All the equipment used at the salon is disinfected regularly, and all the employees use face masks to ensure the safety of the clients,” she said.
Zainab Saeed, who works at Four Spa, said that they were limiting the number of customers allowed in each of their two branches, as per the new rules.
“We only accept up to 6 clients per hour in our Takhasussi branch, and not more than 3 per hour in our Diplomatic Quarter branch due to the size of the place,” she said.
However, opinion on whether or not people consider it safe enough to go out for entertainment or other nonessential purposes remains divided.
Lamyaa Al-Sharidy, a resident of Riyadh, said that the fact that the gyms are now open again for business does not do much to allay her fears.
“I’ve seen pictures and posts about how gyms are following procedure and being very careful, and it looks safe, but in my opinion, I would not take any risk, especially if I can do my workouts at home. Even if the gyms are doing everything they can to protect their clients, deep down I’m still afraid,” she said.
She explained that, while she was careful to follow correct procedures, not everyone around her seemed to be taking the same precautions as her.
“When I go out, I’ve seen some people ignore the social distancing stickers on the ground. This is what scares me the most. I can do everything I can to protect myself, and the staff at the places I visit can do everything in their power as well, but neither they nor I can control what other patrons are doing,” she said.
Mohammad Al-Rifai, on the other hand, says he has been to the gym several times already and was “really impressed” by the level of care and commitment he has seen from the staff each time: “Several of the machines are cordoned off, they’re being incredibly cautious about hygiene and health, and everyone I have encountered at the gyms has been careful, cautious, and courteous.”
He said that he was being extra careful by bringing a reusable bottle of water brought from home, wiped down with disposable antibacterial wipes before each use, and opting to shower at home instead of at the facility.
“It’s inconvenient, sure, but better safe than sorry,” he said.
Hanan Al-Amri said that she was being cautious, but trying to return back to normal at the same time.
“I’ve been trying to limit myself to safer choices but also trying not to deprive myself too much. Easing back in, just dipping my toes in the water,” she said.
Al-Amri admitted that she had been to the salon for a “safe” haircut and dye job with all the proper procedures followed but was putting off a long-desired spa treatment for the time being.
“One thing is for sure; when this pandemic is over, I’m getting a full-day package and no one and nothing is going to stop me,” she said.