JEDDAH: The Saudi health minister has revealed that Saudi Arabia is working with Oxford in the UK and with Russia, the US and China on a COVID-19 vaccine, but he confirmed that it would not be used on people until it had passed tests by the Saudi Food and Drug Federation (SFDA)
“Our leadership is keen on boosting whatever is needed to enhance the health of society and vaccine availability, and to be one of the first to acquire a vaccine, but the safety of the vaccine and the procedure employed are also of great importance when approving any treatment,” said Tawfiq Al-Rabiah.
The vaccine is being tested by each country and, once it is approved by the SFDA, it will be used in the Kingdom.
The minister said in his interview with Al Arabiya that the situation is stable in Saudi Arabia, where health services and tests are available to all those who need them.
“One of the reasons for our number of tests is that we have 21 testing centers that are accessible by car. A person can book an appointment on their phone and go to get tested. The number of tests done in a day can exceed 70,000. The high number of tests helps to reveal infected individuals at an early stage, which helps us with prevention. Although our case numbers are high, our number of deaths is low in comparison to total cases; it is also the lowest among G20 countries,” he said.
He said that the number of cases was decreasing — 90 percent of recorded cases have recovered — due to the adherence to precautionary measures.
The minister praised Saudis and expats for their understanding. He noted that it is evident in the way people are wearing their masks and are committed more than ever before to being safe.
“It helps that schools are closed, and the ministry’s decision to continue with remote learning helps to maintain stability,” he said.
Initially, people had to wait long periods because of the pressure on emergency rooms in hospitals, but there now are more than 230 Tettamman (Make sure) clinics open 16 or even 24 hours a day to help anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
“Around 15,000 people visit these clinics daily. Most of them experience symptoms that turn out to be unrelated to COVID-19. Out of the 15,000, 10,000 are tested and only 300 are then transferred to hospitals,” said Al-Rabiah.
These 15,000 used to come to emergency rooms every day, but when hospitals receive only 300 patients, the quality of service increases and people can expect to receive quicker treatment, he said.
“This pandemic has challenged the entire world. In the Kingdom, the situation never became so dire that we had to start choosing who to save and who to let die as in some countries, due to a lack of critical care availability. In the past three months, we have been able to raise our critical care capacity by to 50 percent, adding 3,600 beds,” said the minister.
He revealed that the toll-free number 937 receives around 100,000 calls per day to provide medical consultations and other services. The swift response has helped calm the people of Saudi Arabia.
Any psychological trauma or distress caused by the virus was also being dealt with. People were able to call on 937 to report their struggles. The minister confirmed there were a few cases that needed further support, but the overall state is stable.
The minister also confirmed that Saudi Arabia has not witnessed any variations in the virus, nor had any patient reported catching the virus twice. In most cases where this has happened around the world, he said, it was probably that the virus never left the patient’s body, as there are cases where the virus lingered for six to eight weeks.
Throughout the Kingdom, coronavirus cases are decreasing. In Tabuk, King Fahd Specialist Hospital announced it has shut down its COVID-19 isolation ward as the number of patients in a critical condition had dropped to zero.
Meanwhile, the Kingdom recorded 32 new COVID-19-related deaths on Friday, raising the death toll to 3,580.
There were 1,213 new cases reported in Saudi Arabia, meaning 305,186 people have now contracted the disease. There are 24,539 active cases, 1,675 of them in critical condition.
According to the Health Ministry, 1,591 more patients had recovered from coronavirus, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 277,067.
Saudi Arabia has so far conducted 4,563,517 PCR tests, with 62,413 carried out in the past 24 hours.