Saudi health expert: Having COVID-19 vaccine jabs our only way back to normal lives

Saudi health expert: Having COVID-19 vaccine jabs our only way back to normal lives
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Updated 30 April 2021

Saudi health expert: Having COVID-19 vaccine jabs our only way back to normal lives

Saudi health expert: Having COVID-19 vaccine jabs our only way back to normal lives
  • ‘This is a humanitarian cause, for yourself, for the people and for the love of the country’

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine rollout has inoculated more than 25 percent of the population.
Over the past year, the Kingdom has promoted strict protocols to curb the virus until the national vaccine campaign started. Every new vaccine administered is another step to normalcy. Saudi health experts have said that in a bid to return to normal life in the fight against COVID-19, vaccines are a necessity, not a luxury.
“The government placed the safety of their people first and the nation lived through an unsettling new normal. Many have come to realize that life is somewhat back to normal with prayers resumed at mosques and people returning to coffee shops. Many have felt the sense of urgency and rushed to take the vaccine. We can’t afford another hit,” infectious disease consultant Dr. Nezar Bahabri told Arab News.
He added: “The vaccines are the only way to return back to our normal lives. This is a humanitarian cause, for yourself, for the people and for the love of the country.”
After the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020, Saudi Arabia protected its health system and prevented the spread of the virus by imposing flight bans, lockdowns, curfews and making social distancing and the wearing of masks mandatory. The daily case count never made it past 5,000 cases per day, thanks to government efforts supported by the public’s adherence. 
The numbers declined, restrictions were loosened and people began to get a grasp of their new reality, gradually and carefully. 
But to return to the old normal, COVID-19 vaccines were critical. 
By ramping up vaccinations, suffering communities could rebuild foundations for a prosperous and lasting recovery. 
Saudi Arabia supported the global vaccine development and pledged $500 million on vaccine campaigns. The Kingdom gave $150 million to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, $150 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation and $200 million to regional and global programs. 
Through careful planning and accurate timing, the first batch of Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the Kingdom in early December, shortly followed by the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The national vaccine rollout was already in full swing after both vaccines were cleared for public use by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, and news of two more jabs pending approval built on hope for a swift recovery.
According to the Saudi Health Council, 5,000 Saudi residents received their first doses on Dec. 18, 2020. By March 3, 1 million people had been inoculated. 

But 1 million is not enough. Late last month, a series of recommendations were put into place by several ministries — notably the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development — making it mandatory for employees of certain sensitive sectors to be inoculated or provide weekly negative PCR test results at the expense of the employer.
By March 28, 4 million residents received at least one vaccine dose. The inoculation program picked up speed soon after. Vaccines were administered at a rate of 1 million doses every 5 to 7 days.
“The vaccine is the tool that will reopen doors again. Government sectors have made it mandatory to protect the people, the consequences for those refusing to take it will bear a heavy toll.”
Bahabri said that many people refusing to take the vaccine would start a series of unfortunate events that could lead to a possible collapse in the healthcare system, something that the Kingdom has successfully prevented since the start of the pandemic. 
Vaccine hesitancy has been hardened by false claims spreading on social media. Efforts were made to prevent false rumors being shared, such as fines and imprisonment when a perpetrator was caught. 

BACKGROUND

• After the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020, Saudi Arabia protected its health system and prevented the spread of the virus by imposing flight bans, lockdowns, curfews and making social distancing and the wearing of masks mandatory. The daily case count never made it past 5,000 cases per day, thanks to government efforts supported by the public’s adherence. 

• Saudi Arabia supported the global vaccine development and pledged $500 million on vaccine campaigns. The Kingdom gave $150 million to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, $150 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation and $200 million to regional and global programs.

“It’s not so much hesitancy anymore, it’s negligence,” said Bahabri, adding: “It’s unfortunate to see this happening. It’s un-Islamic, but fortunately people are listening and heeding the call. It’s an important step, for the citizens and community alike.”
Abu-Talal A., a retired businessman in Jeddah, told Arab News that the past year was difficult with the absence of his children and grandchildren. Having lost his wife nearly five years ago, he blamed his fear of the vaccine on conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccine activists that flooded his social media feeds.
“I trust the experts, I trust the government but I do not know what to expect if I take it.”
He told Arab News that posts by skeptics claiming to have hard evidence that the pandemic is a hoax and that the inoculation would damage his genetics put him in a bubble he said was hard to get out of.
“It’s a scary time and though I resisted for long, my son eventually made the appointment for me and the decision was a fait accompli that rendered me speechless. My children are careful but they want me safe. The support, the internet and transparency in relaying information helps… This has gone long enough and we all need to live normally again,” he said.


Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti foreign ministers call for immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories

Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti foreign ministers call for immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories
Updated 15 May 2021

Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti foreign ministers call for immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories

Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti foreign ministers call for immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories
  • Prince Faisal and Sameh Shoukry discussed developments in the Palestinian territories
  • They renewed their demand for the international community to confront aggressive Israeli practices

RIYADH: The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Egypt called for an immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories on Saturday.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Sameh Shoukry discussed developments in the Palestinian territories as part of continuous coordination between the Kingdom and Egypt.

They renewed their demand for the international community to confront aggressive Israeli practices against the Palestinian people.

The foreign ministers highlighted the importance of working to resume peace efforts in a manner that guarantees all legitimate Palestinian rights.

Prince Faisal also received a telephone call from his Kuwait counterpart during which the two officials discussed the escalation in violence in the region.

Prince Faisal and Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah discussed the Palestinian cause, developments in the region and bilateral relations.


Saudi Arabia announces 13 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 13 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 15 May 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 13 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 13 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 416,759
  • A total of 7,147 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 13 deaths from COVID-19 and 837 new infections on Saturday.
Of the new cases, 290 were recorded in Riyadh, 240 in Makkah, 97 in the the Eastern Province, 59 in Asir, 55 in Madinah, 28 in Jazan, 15 in Najran, 10 in Hail, eight in Al-Baha, five in Al-Jouf, and one in Tabuk.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 416,759 after 1,012 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 7,147 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 11.3 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


Saudi physics team wins 5 international medals on Eid

Saudi physics team wins 5 international medals on Eid
Updated 15 May 2021

Saudi physics team wins 5 international medals on Eid

Saudi physics team wins 5 international medals on Eid
  • Eight students from the Kingdom participated in the Olympiad and won one gold, two silver, and two bronze medals taking the country’s record in international scientific competitions to 413 triumphs

RIYADH: Students from the Saudi national physics team added to the country’s Eid celebrations by winning five medals at a major international science competition.

The team, trained by the King Abdul Aziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba) in partnership with the Ministry of Education, scooped the awards at the 2021 Nordic-Baltic Physics Olympiad (NBPhO).

Mawhiba secretary-general, Dr. Saud Al-Mathami, said: “On Eid Al-Fitr, our students offered our dear nation the best gift and were able to represent it in the best way possible.”

The NBPhO event, which was held remotely on May 7 to 8 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, featured 116 contestants representing 11 countries.

Eight students from the Kingdom participated in the Olympiad and won one gold, two silver, and two bronze medals taking the country’s record in international scientific competitions to 413 triumphs.

Ahmed Al-Muhanna secured the gold, Alqasem Senegali and Hassan Mohammed Al-Lail gained silvers, and Sadeq Al-Abbad and Adel Al-Shammasi both returned home with a bronze medal.

Al-Mathami thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their ongoing support for the foundation’s work.

“Mawhiba provides students with intensive training courses and programs within an integrated journey, where each student has access to more than 19 initiatives.

“It supports and empowers students to take part in forging the future and be effective partners in achieving the Kingdom’s Vision 2030,” he added.

Saudi Arabia’s participation in global science contests forms part of Mawhiba’s so-called “journey of gifted students” that includes several initiatives such as summer academic and research enrichment programs, apprenticeships, and post-school schemes that help students enroll in some of the world’s top universities and compete and win in international competitions.

NBPhO allows major counties up to 20 participants.


Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses
Updated 15 May 2021

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses
  • The region is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality

RIYADH: Old neighborhoods in the heart of the city of Hail, in northern Saudi Arabia, are popular attractions, especially with older visitors who like to wander around and look at the traditional mud houses that remind them of their childhood days.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the region in these buildings, both the surviving examples of those built a century ago and the more recent buildings that mimic their style.

Mohammed Al-Na’am is the supervisor of several Al-Na’am heritage houses. These properties, which are owned by his family and were built many decades ago, are open 24 hours a day to visitors and passers-by, who can stop by for a coffee and some food or even stay the night. There are many other houses across the Hail region that are similarly welcoming, he said.

His heritage houses are usually busy with visitors from Hail and beyond, who appreciate the generosity of their hosts, he said. Most of those who visit the houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, are particularly impressed by the ornately decorated walls and ceilings, which have been restored and renovated with a modern touch, Al-Na’am added.

“Hail is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality,” he said. “This explains the interest in the ancient buildings of the region.”

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms, he explained. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

While this traditional style of building enjoys enduring popularity, Al-Na’am said, the high cost of constructing mud houses and the need for continuous maintenance means that modern versions are often built using concrete. This allows the classic mud-house style to be preserved while reducing the cost of construction and maintenance.

“Some modern buildings maintain the traditional design used in ancient buildings and use the same style of decorations, especially those in the city center,” he said. But this style of ancient buildings originally developed and spread in the villages of the region, not in the city.

HIGHLIGHT

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

One feature of these buildings is the design of the majlis or sitting rooms, which often have relatively high ceilings to make it easier to keep the room clear of smoke from the fire during the winter and keep it cool in the summer, said Al-Na’am.

“Most of the sitting rooms are decorated with plaster featuring geometric shapes,” he added. “However, today’s buildings use gypsum plaster and cement, which have lower costs.”

Some people continue to keep the old traditions alive by working with authentic materials. Abdullah Al-Khuzam, a member of the National Program for the Development of Handicrafts, has been passionate about building mud houses for more than 30 years.

He said he mixes the mud he uses, and that other materials used in the construction include tree trunks and palm-tree fronds. He described the Hail architectural style as durable and solid, with strong walls ranging in thickness from 30 to 40 centimeters. Mixing the mud is a delicate process that requires special skills, and is not as random as it might appear, he added.

“For example, certain parts of the building require a certain amount of mud and clay and a certain quantity of soil,” he explained. “For other parts, mud and soil are mixed and soft hay is added. The mixture is fermented for seven to 14 days before construction starts.”

Al-Khuzam, who is also a well-known fine artist, has taken part in many heritage exhibitions in the Kingdom and other countries.

“My participation in these events aimed to promote our traditional heritage and introduce the next generations to the traditional methods our forefathers used,” he said. The traditional designs and construction methods used in old buildings reflected the values and beliefs of the community, said Al-Khuzam. It was usual, for example, for doors in mud houses to be positioned in such a way that they did not reveal the interior of the house. A wall would block the view. Decorations were also an important part of the design process.

“Our forefathers paid special attention to the sitting room’s construction, which reflected their taste in art and architecture,” he said. “The majority of sitting rooms were decorated with engravings on the walls as well as Qur’anic verses, wise proverbs and drawings of plants.”

The majlis, where guests were hosted, was known as al-qahwa (the coffee area), he explained, and the area overlooking the yard was called liwan (summer majlis).

One feature that sets houses in Hail apart from those in other areas, according to Al-Khuzam, is the yard. Typically, it is a large space with an orange tree in the center. Orange trees live a long time and are a signature feature of yards in Hail. Some also have palm trees.

Another prominent feature of architecture in the region is something called a “dome,” which is located in front of the building. It is where the residents of the house traditionally spend most of their time during the summer. It also helps to shield the rest of the house from the sun and rain.

The previously mentioned majlis or sitting room in the heart of the house is where family members gather during the cold days of winter and light a fire to keep warm. The heads of the family occupy the main bedroom, while the children share rooms that are divided between boys and girls.

One of the nicest parts of a traditional Hail house is called “al-qubaiba.” Located off a corridor or a corner, it is a small space usually used by women, especially the elderly, to pray. A clay pot filled with water is stored there to keep it cool.

Al-Khuzam’s enduring passion for Hail’s old buildings is clear.

“I have been ready to do anything for the sake of this precious heritage and legacy,” he said. “I was glad when I heard that the Ministry of Culture had decided to restore the heritage sitting rooms in the city of Hail. These public places represent an important aspect of the traditions and values of the people of Hail, reflecting their generosity to visitors and passers-by. Some of them are open from after Asr prayers until midnight.

“I was a member of the team that restored these sitting rooms. I am grateful for the authorities’ support and for giving us the opportunity to put our touches on the historic buildings in the area.”

Mohammed Al-Halfi, a historian and doctorate student at King Saud University, said a house represents a part of a family’s identity and offers an insight into their history. Houses built close together are indicative of the close relationships between the people that lived in them, he explained.

They reveal how these people planned their lives together and built houses that reflected their environments and surroundings, he added. In the rural desert environment, known for its harshness and extreme summer heat, mud houses helped to manage the temperature.

“Using mud in architecture became an art hundreds of years ago, and still is,” said Al-Halfi. “Guest and living rooms in today’s houses have the same style as the old ones, and this reflects our pride in this identity and our heritage.”

He added that a study of the materials, design and construction techniques that were used to make the mud houses reveals the expertise of the builders. They took into account all factors to ensure the structures were perfectly suited to the local conditions, including the terrain and climate, and even the rising and setting of the sun.

“We must view mud houses as a historical source when studying any society,” said Al-Halfi. “These houses deserve to be studied, economically and socially, to get more information about the community at the time.

“That is why we find mud houses differ from one region to another, according to the cultures of their inhabitants and the building requirements available in their environments.”


ThePlace: Tayeb Al-Ism, one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions

ThePlace: Tayeb Al-Ism, one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions
Updated 15 May 2021

ThePlace: Tayeb Al-Ism, one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions

ThePlace: Tayeb Al-Ism, one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions
  • Small streams run through the stones and groves of palm trees dot the inside of the valley

Tayeb Al-Ism is one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions. Visitors to the valley enjoy one surprise after another. The valley is located on the Gulf of Aqaba, 15 kilometers north of the coastal town of Maqna.

Palm groves and granite massifs surround the valley’s entrance, which is located between two massifs that appear to be split in half.

After leaving their cars, visitors follow a pedestrian bridge that gives hikers the impression that they are about to embark on a magical journey. Small streams run through the stones and groves of palm trees dot the inside of the valley.

Shade and the large number of streams help to regulate the temperature, ensuring conditions in the heart of Tayeb Al-Ism are always pleasant.

Moses is believed to have spent his voluntary exile in Madyan, the ancient name of the Gulf of Aqaba, and reached Tayeb Al-Ism, hence the name “Valley of Moses.”