Mandatory use of Tawakkalna app to access public places gets mixed reaction in Saudi Arabia

Technical issues with the app earlier this week left many people unable to access it. (SPA)
Technical issues with the app earlier this week left many people unable to access it. (SPA)
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Updated 06 February 2021

Mandatory use of Tawakkalna app to access public places gets mixed reaction in Saudi Arabia

Mandatory use of Tawakkalna app to access public places gets mixed reaction in Saudi Arabia
  • Expert called app a ‘safety medal’ for citizens, residents for facing down virus

RIYADH: There have been mixed reactions to the mandatory use of Saudi Arabia’s COVID-19 app to access places such as hotels, malls and restaurants.
Tawakkalna was launched last year to help track coronavirus infections. It has since developed and been updated to include vaccination information, including an individual’s status such as vaccinated or infected, and now functions as a COVID-19 “passport.”
Technical issues with the app earlier this week left many people unable to access it — meaning they were unable to gain entry to public spaces.
Dr. Osama Ghanem Alobaidy, a law professor at the Institute of Public Administration in Riyadh, said everybody had raced to download the app. “I personally could not log on to the app throughout Thursday and part of Friday,” he told Arab News.
Tawakkalna management should have anticipated the large volume of app users and the pressure that this demand would put on its operation, he added.
“Any malfunction to this app after it became mandatory will have an adverse effect on the local economy since no individual will be allowed into any government or private establishment if the app on his or her mobile phone is not working. In addition, I did not receive any message from Tawakkalna as claimed to allow temporary access. So I called the Tawakkalna toll free number and was informed that a message would be sent shortly providing me a temporary permit but that did not materialize.”
However Dr. Majed Al-Hedayan, a financial and legal expert, called Tawakkalna a “safety medal” for citizens and residents for facing down coronavirus.
“It is a very distinct service that is unique to Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News. “This is the fruit of investment in the knowledge economy, which contributes to the improvement of public services, especially health.”

HIGHLIGHT

Launched by the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority last year, the application saw over 200 million operations being made within a 24 hour period. A majority of registered users were locked out of the app. Those unregistered breathed a slight sigh of relief Friday as the app gradually showed signs of working again.

The technical issues had improved on Friday, with the app functioning for many, but some people were still experiencing glitches.
Belal Akhtar, an IT consultant at King Saud University, went to the supermarket on Thursday for her weekly shop. “I was trying to log into the app since the morning and only succeeded in the evening,” she told Arab News. “Though I successfully logged in, the connection was not stable and when I reached the destination, I saw a very long queue at the entrance. Most of the people were telling the same story, facing difficulties in accessing the app.”
PR consultant Ayman Hassan was not having problems with the app, which he had been using since the early days of its launch. “Those who have been using the app from the beginning are not facing any issues,” he told Arab News. “It’s working well with me. I heard so many stories about (the app) crashing and people advising the best time to try, but for me, thankfully, no issues yet.”
Pakistani expat Faiz Al-Najdi, who works in Yanbu, said he and his wife were denied entry to a pharmacy and then a mall in the port city because his app was down.
“However Friday morning I was surprised to receive an SMS, from Tawakkalna, providing me with a permit to show security to allow me to enter any public place,” he told Arab News.

Decoder

Tawakkalna

The Tawakkalna is an app developed by the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) to support government efforts in countering Covid-19. It facilitates the issuance of movement permits electronically during the curfew period for those who are exempted from the curfew, thus helping to reduce the spread of the pandemic in the Kingdom.


Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sends letter to UAE president

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sends letter to UAE president
Updated 29 min 7 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sends letter to UAE president

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sends letter to UAE president
  • The message dealt with ways to develop bilateral relations
  • It was delivered by Saudi foreign minister during a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sent a written message to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, regarding their strong bilateral relations and ways to support and enhance them, Saudi Press Agency reported on Monday.
The message was delivered by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan during a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, UAE vice president and prime minister and ruler of Dubai.
During the reception, Prince Faisal conveyed greetings from King Salman to Sheikh Khalifa, wishing him and the Emirati people continued progress and prosperity.
Sheikh Mohammed said the UAE president expressed appreciation for the Saudi monarch, wishing him good health and wellness and the Saudi people further development and growth. 


Saudi crown prince leaves for Oman on first leg of GCC tour

Saudi crown prince leaves for Oman on first leg of GCC tour
Updated 42 min 6 sec ago

Saudi crown prince leaves for Oman on first leg of GCC tour

Saudi crown prince leaves for Oman on first leg of GCC tour
  • The tour is aimed at boosting and strengthening ties with GCC countries
  • Oman says his visit affirms the fraternal ties and historical relations binding both nations

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman left the Kingdom for Oman on Monday, the first leg of multiple stops in his tour of Gulf states.
Prince Mohammed’s visit comes “based on directives from King Salman, his keenness to communicate with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and to strengthen ties,” the Royal Court said in a statement issued by Saudi Press Agency.
During his tour, the crown prince will meet with leaders and senior officials in the sultanate, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, to discuss bilateral relations and ways to enhance them in all fields, as well as other issues of common interest.
Expected to be on the agenda when he meets with Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq are issues of mutual concern and ways to promote the interests of the two Gulf countries as well as ‘fulfilling the aspirations and hopes’ of their peoples, Oman’s state news agency ONA reported earlier on Monday.
The visit is an “affirmation of the ties of fraternity and kinship, and the historical relations binding the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” ONA said, adding both countries “are set for a new stage of economic and investment cooperation in all fields.”
Last July, the two countries reaffirmed plans to engage in joint investment in advanced technologies, innovation, renewable energy projects, industry health, real estate, tourism, petrochemical converting industries, supply chains, logistics partnership, information technology and financial technology, the ONA report said.
“The achievements made over the past five months and the active exchange of visits among officials reflect the keen desire of the two countries to work together.” This includes establishing the Saudi-Omani Investment Forum that was held in Muscat in August, where a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding were signed.


Saudi defenses destroy several drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward the Kingdom: Arab coalition

Saudi defenses destroy several drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward the Kingdom: Arab coalition
Updated 06 December 2021

Saudi defenses destroy several drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward the Kingdom: Arab coalition

Saudi defenses destroy several drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward the Kingdom: Arab coalition
  • Bahrain strongly condemned the attack

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s air defenses destroyed Houthi drones targeting the Kingdom, the Arab coalition said early on Monday.

The drones were shot down in Yemen before they could cause harm.

This follows the downing of several drones launched by the Iran-back militia on Sunday.

The action comes as the Arab coalition forces have been eliminating militia assets in recent weeks, including weapons and personnel.

The militia frequently launch cross border attacks using explosive-laden drones and ballistic missiles targeting populated areas in the Kingdom’s southern region.

The group, who seized the Yemeni capital in 2014, have been fighting the internationally recognized government, which is supported by the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

Earlier on Sunday, the coalition said Saudi defenses intercepted and destroyed four drones that tried to target the southern region.

The Arab Parliament denounced the attacks and said they constitute a clear violation of the Stockholm Agreement, which stipulates a cease-fire.

It “called on the international community to take an immediate and decisive stance to stop these repeated terrorist acts, and to prevent this militia from acquiring advanced military technology, which the Iranian regime supplies and used to target vital and civilian facilities.”

The UAE strongly condemned the attempts to target the Kingdom and said the continuation of these terrorist attacks by the Houthi militia reflects its blatant defiance of the international community.

Bahrain also strongly condemned the attacks, saying it “reflects the militias’ continued sinister and systematic attacks to target civilians and innocent lives.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed Bahrain’s support for all measures Saudi Arabia takes to ensure the security and safety of its territory, citizens and residents.

The war in Yemen has now raged for seven years, with some of the fiercest fighting taking place this year in the resource-rich and government-held province of Marib.

On Sunday, three Yemeni civilians were wounded when four Houthi missiles landed in residential areas in Marib.

Large explosions rocked the city after the four missiles hit the airport, Al-Shareka and Rawdha neighborhoods, residents said.

Footage on social media showed thick smoke billowing from shelled areas as people fled.

“The Houthi militia’s repeated targeting of the city of Marib, which is crowded with millions of residents and displaced people, with ballistic missiles is part of its attempts to inflict a big number of casualties among civilians. This is a cowardly act of revenge,” said Moammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s information minister.


Finnish runner to cross Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert

The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. (Shutterstock)
The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. (Shutterstock)
Updated 06 December 2021

Finnish runner to cross Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert

The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. (Shutterstock)
  • Jukka Viljanen will set off on Dec. 6 on a 25-day journey through 1,300 km of desert terrain, with the aim of becoming the first person to run across the massive desert
  • "This dream to run across the Empty Quarter has been my passion. I am very passionate about it because Rub Al-Khali is the biggest and the most beautiful sand desert in the world, it inspires me. My passion keeps me motivated to run for adventure"

RIYADH: A Finnish adventurer has set himself the challenge of joining the ranks of record-breaking pioneers who have made the grueling journey across Rub Al-Khali, Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter. Adventure runner Jukka Viljanen will set off on Dec. 6 on a 25-day journey through 1,300 km of desert terrain, with the aim of becoming the first person to run across the massive desert.

The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. The vast landscape of ever-shifting dunes was explored between the early 1930s and the 1950s by the likes of Bertram Thomas, the first recorded Westerner to cross the desert, and Wilfred Thesiger, and their Arab companions.

More recently, photographer Anna Aiko crossed Rub Al-Khali on camel in 2019, and Italian explorer Max Calderan, a long-time resident of Dubai, completed the first solo crossing of the Empty Quarter in 2020. Previous explorers have crossed shorter sections of Rub Al-Khali on camels or in off-road vehicles.

Given the inhospitable terrain and testing conditions, the journey is a test of endurance however it is undertaken but Viljanen aims to take the challenge to another level by running the whole way, covering about 50 kilometers a day. His challenge has been organized by Delta Adventures, a leader in desert journeys and adventures in Saudi Arabia.

Finnish adventure runner Jukka Viljanen (file photo)

“I started as an adventure runner 15 years ago,” Viljanen said during an exclusive interview with Arab News. “I am very passionate about the sand dunes; they energize me. I love the desert.

“It has become a challenge for me as the Empty Quarter has not been crossed fully yet. I want to make it with my team. I am very passionate about creating history by crossing it successfully.

HIGHLIGHT

Given the inhospitable terrain and testing conditions, the journey is a test of endurance however it is undertaken but Jukka Viljanen aims to take the challenge to another level by running the whole way, covering about 50 kilometers a day. His challenge has been organized by Delta Adventures, a leader in desert journeys and adventures in Saudi Arabia.

“This dream to run across the Empty Quarter has been my passion. I am very passionate about it because Rub Al-Khali is the biggest and the most beautiful sand desert in the world, it inspires me. My passion keeps me motivated to run for adventure. It’s my passion that brought me here.”

Viljanen said he chose Dec. 6 as the start date for his adventure for a special reason: “It’s the Finnish National Day.”

The expedition will be his first experience of running in the Empty Quarter, though has run in other Saudi deserts. In fact he has run in a number of challenging environments around the world.

“In 2007, I went to the North Pole where I participated in a marathon with snowshoes,” he said. “Then I did another marathon with a mountain bike.

“After the North Pole I decided to challenge myself more so I entered another race, which was in the Libyan Sahara in 2008. I did a 200km race over there. Then I went to Antarctica, the southernmost continent and site of the South Pole

"Some years later, I decided to run across (more) deserts. My first event was at the Kalahari Desert in 2010.”

I am very passionate about the sand dunes; they energize me. I love the desert. Jukka Viljanen

Viljanen ran across more than 1,000 km of the Kalahari in 20 days, including some of the most remote wilderness areas in Botswana.

“A few years later I was the first one to run across the Sahara Desert, which was 1,628 km in 31 days,” he added. “Two years ago I was able to run across the second-biggest ice sheet in the world … across the icecap of Greenland. That was approximately 600 km.”

His experiences and achievements are remarkable but he has no intention of stopping any time soon — quite the opposite.

“I want to go further and out of my comfort zone,” Viljanen said. “I want to raise the bar for myself, and that’s the reason I am here in Saudi Arabia: I want to be the first person to run across the Empty Quarter.”

He will run alone but will be accompanied by a backup team consisting of Saudis and a friend from Finland. The team leaders are Mohammed Al-Khamis and Ady Al-Khamis, the owners of Delta Adventures.

“I have known them since 2014, when I was here in Riyadh for the first time,” said Viljanen “They have been to the Empty Quarter before. I consider them my extended family.”

The climate in Saudi Arabia is a lot different to his native Finland but Viljanen is taking it all in his stride.

“Yes, it’s a lot warmer but I am quite used to it because of my experiences in the Sahara and Kalahari deserts,” he said. “I like that it’s warm, I take that as a bonus.”

He said he hopes he will have a chance to talk to young people in Saudi Arabia to share his experiences and help inspire them in their own lives and ambitions.

“I would like to speak to the Saudi people after the voyage,” Viljanen said. “I will be back here to share my story. People should raise their bar and they should have new goals in their lives, coming out of their comfort zone. It cannot be achieved sitting in their comfort zone. People have lots of potential but they don’t know it; we should motivate them to become role models for others.

“The main message is ‘challenge yourself.’ I am a motivational speaker and will give motivational talks to Saudi students and people to inspire them to accept the challenge and get out of their comfort zone, because the magic happens outside of the comfort zone. The Empty Quarter is not a comfort zone; the magic will happen there.”

This visit is Viljanen’s fifth to Saudi Arabia, and he said he is always impressed by Saudi traditions and the reception he receives.

“Besides my passion to run, I want to learn about new cultures,” he added. “I am amazed by the warm hospitality of the Saudi people. I attended a Saudi wedding ceremony on Wednesday. It was a blessing. I joined them in traditional dance and enjoyed it.”

It remains to be seen how his Empty Quarter challenge will compare to previous tests, but he is clear about what has been his most difficult undertaking so far.

“It was Greenland,” Viljanen said. “Crossing the ice sheet in 2019 was very difficult. It was full of snow and very cold. The terrain was really very difficult but it was very rewarding. I realized that I have potential, and here I am because of my North Pole experience.”

If running across the ice was his most challenging test, deserts present their own challenges.

“Sand makes it tough,” he explained. “It can ruin your legs so you really need to focus on taking care. Hot weather is another challenge but I keep myself very much hydrated. I drink every 20-30 minutes. I keep myself energized by eating every hour so my sugar level does not drop.”


Saudi and Bahraini naval forces launch joint exercise in Jubail

Saudi and Bahraini naval forces launch joint exercise in Jubail
Updated 06 December 2021

Saudi and Bahraini naval forces launch joint exercise in Jubail

Saudi and Bahraini naval forces launch joint exercise in Jubail

RIYADH: The Royal Saudi Naval Forces and their Bahraini counterparts launched a mixed bilateral naval exercise in the Eastern Province on the Arabian Gulf, the Saudi defense ministry announced on Sunday.

The JISR-22 exercise was held at King Abdul Aziz Naval Base in Jubail.

Vice Admiral Majid bin Hazza Al-Qahtani, commander of the Eastern Fleet, said that the exercise will enhance the capabilities that ensure the security and stability of the region, and develop operational compatibility and tactical efficiency.

The exercise will also strengthen capabilities in naval operations, with the participation of the Royal Saudi Air Force in close air support.

Al-Qahtani added that the exercise is an extension of the JISR (bridge) exercises, which are carried out periodically between the two countries, and aims to enhance security cooperation, secure territorial waters, and unify concepts and joint work.