JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia witnessed huge celebrations marking the country’s 90th National Day, but there are fears of a surge in coronavirus cases in the days to come.
Images and videos of mass gatherings, group fights, overcrowded public places and packed malls were circulating on social media following the Sept. 23 festivities, with talk of a new COVID-19 wave hitting the Kingdom as a result of this behavior and apparent disregard for people’s health and safety.
In a strongly worded tweet after the celebrations, Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah warned there were serious consequences for ignoring COVID-19 guidelines.
“Our commitment is our weapon, and our carelessness will harm us!” the minister said. “COVID-19 figures in Saudi Arabia indicate numbers of new cases are declining, recovery rate has exceeded 94 percent, and critical cases are on the decline, thanks to God, then to your cooperation. Therefore you must not allow the pandemic to spread, some unfortunate scenes do not represent our awareness, we want your help and attention.”
Ministry spokesman Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly also sent a strong warning on Twitter: “The severe overcrowding and violations of preventive precautions that happened on National Day is very worrying and unfortunate. The pandemic is still there and is still strong. Indulgence and complacency can increase and accelerate its spread, God forbid. Preserve your health, safety, life, and the lives of those you love. We urge you to cooperate.”
“I don’t remember seeing such huge gatherings before,” Rawan Abdullah from Jeddah told Arab News. “I understand that people want to gather and celebrate for the first time after very long stressful months, but it seems that they thought the coronavirus was on vacation too.”
She wondered about the penalties for breaking social distancing rules that authorities had insisted on during and after lockdown in order to maintain community health and prevent the spread of the virus. “To be honest, I see that some people are like children. They will not abide by any guidelines without severe restrictions and penalties, and they will be the ones to destroy all the efforts done to maintain the health of the community,” she added.
There were calls on Twitter to “prepare your carrom board” from Saudis, a reference to a lockdown in the event of rising case numbers due to National Day misbehavior.
The largely forgotten traditional board game reclaimed its popularity during lockdown in Saudi Arabia and was sold out across the Kingdom for months.
Malak Khaled from Riyadh said it was natural for society to be more relaxed with the existence of COVID-19.
“People are bored,” she told Arab News. “However, that surely does not justify the insane scenes we saw on that day. Malls and centers should not have been allowed to prepare for celebrations on that day because it is always an occasion for people to gather and it is always crowded. Europe is currently facing a second COVID-19 wave, which is mostly caused by youths’ carelessness and authorities easing restrictions. We learned the lesson from what happened in Europe at the beginning of the pandemic and I hope we don’t forget what we learned.”