South Asian expats in Saudi Arabia cancel home trips over virus concerns

South Asian expats in Saudi Arabia cancel home trips over virus concerns
Entrance and departure from the Kingdom’s land, sea and air ports was resumed on Monday for vaccinated Saudis. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 18 May 2021

South Asian expats in Saudi Arabia cancel home trips over virus concerns

South Asian expats in Saudi Arabia cancel home trips over virus concerns
  • “Home trip cancellation will make my family depressed because most of my family members, relatives, and friends are in India and we are missing them"

RIYADH: Dismayed by the surge in coronavirus cases, South Asian expatriates working in Saudi Arabia are canceling plans to visit their home countries.
Since some countries are not on the fly list, there is fear that a second or third wave could hit their countries with the risk of closures and flight bans.
Last April, India crossed a grim milestone with more than 400,000 infected in one day and more than 270,000 people lost to the deadly coronavirus so far, with a devastating surge of new infections tearing through cities and rural areas alike, overwhelming healthcare systems that are already on the brink of collapse.
India has had more than 24.6 million cases so far and broke a global record with more than 412,262 new cases on May 6.
With fears mounting amid a surge in COVID cases, Dr. Manzer H. Siddiqui, an Indian working as an associate professor at King Saud University, told Arab News: “As we know, India is badly affected by a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, I, therefore, have canceled the return flight to home for summer vacation and prefer to stay in the Kingdom.”
“Home trip cancellation will make my family depressed because most of my family members, relatives, and friends are in India and we are missing them. During this pandemic, some have lost their loved ones; I also lost my aunt. My heartfelt condolences to my extended family in India and I hope one day the whole world will come out of this pandemic, fear, and anxiety,” he said.
Dr. Kifaya Ifthikar, a Sri Lankan doctor in Riyadh, told Arab News: “Recently in Sri Lanka, there have been strict restrictions being reinstated due to rising cases. Schools have been closed after a brief opening, certain areas are under lockdown and fear has started to brew once again.”
“Not having been on Lankan soil for two consecutive years, now it is mentally taxing for me especially because of being so far away from loved ones and missing out on important life events,” she said.
“Apart from this our neighboring country India is also facing a grave dilemma, and our solidarity and heart goes out to them,” she said.

FASTFACT

Since some countries are not on the fly list, there is fear that a second or third wave could hit their countries with the risk of closures and flight bans.

Ambreen Faiz, a Pakistani writer living in Yanbu, said: “It’s very scary and heartbreaking to notice that this third wave of the coronavirus is affecting my country very badly. Lots of my relatives and friends back home have been affected by it. My husband and I had plans to visit our family in Pakistan but we were advised by our relatives back home to cancel our travel plan.”
“I have not seen my daughter and her little child for years now. Every day I speak with her and her little princess. My daughter wanted me to travel and meet her during this Eid holiday. But the recent wave of the virus scared me a lot. I don’t want to travel for fear of falling victim to this deadly pandemic,” she said.
Another reason is the flight ban by the Saudi government for 20 countries, Pakistan is one of them, she said.
Saudi Arabia suspended entry from 20 countries effective Feb. 3 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“I know many families who are stranded in Pakistan due to this travel ban. And, I am also afraid of getting stranded. Because of these reasons me and my husband have decided with a heavy heart to postpone our travel until the situation normalizes,” Ambreen said.
Abdus Sattar from Jessore, Bangladesh, said that it was not advisable to go home amid rising coronavirus cases.
“The recent wave of coronavirus appears to be even more deadly and I have decided to cancel my plans to visit the home country,” he said.


Saudi air defense intercepts Houthi drone attack on Khamis Mushait

Saudi air defense intercepts Houthi drone attack on Khamis Mushait
Updated 14 June 2021

Saudi air defense intercepts Houthi drone attack on Khamis Mushait

Saudi air defense intercepts Houthi drone attack on Khamis Mushait
  • Coalition says it thwarted all hostile Houthi attempts aimed at targeting civilians and civilian objects

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said Monday that the Saudi Arabian air defense has intercepted and destroyed an explosive-laden drone launched by the terrorist Houthis militia towards Khamis Mushait, Al Arabiya TV reported. 

The coalition said it thwarted all hostile Houthi attempts aimed at targeting civilians and civilian objects.

Adding that the coalition is taking all operational measures to protect civilians from such attacks.


Saudi Arabia studies vaccinating 12-18 aged group

Saudi Arabia studies vaccinating 12-18 aged group
There were 1,017 new cases, meaning that 465,797 people in the country have now contracted the disease. (REUTERS)
Updated 14 June 2021

Saudi Arabia studies vaccinating 12-18 aged group

Saudi Arabia studies vaccinating 12-18 aged group
  • Saudi Arabia on Sunday reported 19 more COVID-19-related deaths, taking the overall toll to 7,572

JEDDAH: National COVID-19 committees in the Kingdom are studying giving vaccines to people between the ages of 12 and 18, the Ministry of Health’s official spokesman, Dr. Muhammad Al- Abd Al-Aly, said on Sunday.
The news came during a press conference held by the health spokesman with the participation of the official spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, Abdulrahman Al-Hussein.
Al-Aly said that postponing the administration of the second dose lies in achieving the highest level of immunity among society members with the first dose. He confirmed that there had been no changes in the COVID-19 infection curve in the Kingdom, adding that demand for the vaccine and a commitment to precautionary measures contributed to achieving this.
For his part, Al-Hussein said that after 48 days on Aug. 1, those unvaccinated would not be allowed to enter commercial facilities, centers and malls.
The Ministry of Interior announced earlier that shoppers should be fully vaccinated, or have had one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, or been vaccinated after recovering from coronavirus infection — with the exception of age or health groups not obligated to take the vaccine.
He said that the commitment among society members was high during the last period, and the discipline was noticeable, contributing to the return of some activities and services that were restricted earlier such as the reopening of fitting rooms and the use of touch screens.

FASTFACTS

• Saudi Arabia reported 1,017 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday.

• The death toll has risen to 7,572 with 19 more virus-related fatalities.

The spokesman reiterated the four practices that lead to crowding inside and outside of commercial establishments, which are still prohibited: Inviting celebrities and advertisers to these places, opening ceremonies for shops and markets, commercial competitions that require attendance, and inaugural occasions for products or services.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health said that obese people were the most vulnerable to infection from the coronavirus disease and its severe complications, stressing that the vaccine should be taken for protection while implementing precautionary measures.
The ministry, through its Twitter account and awareness platform “Live Healthy,” published an infographic to outline the risks of obesity and associated ailments as a result of the disease.
Saudi Arabia on Sunday reported 19 more COVID-19-related deaths, taking the overall toll to 7,572.
There were 1,017 new cases, meaning that 465,797 people in the country have now contracted the disease. A total of 10,132 cases remain active, of which 1,575 patients are in critical condition.
Of the newly recorded cases, 344 were in Makkah, 198 in Riyadh, 155 in the Eastern Province and 68 in Madinah.
The ministry said that 1,133 patients had recovered from the disease, increasing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 448,093.


Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia doubling down on Diriyah Gate project, says DGDA CEO 

In a wide-ranging interview on Frankly Speaking, CEO Jerry Inzerillo talks about DGDA's far-reaching plans to rival such global attractions as the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome. 
In a wide-ranging interview on Frankly Speaking, CEO Jerry Inzerillo talks about DGDA's far-reaching plans to rival such global attractions as the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome. 
Updated 14 June 2021

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia doubling down on Diriyah Gate project, says DGDA CEO 

In a wide-ranging interview on Frankly Speaking, CEO Jerry Inzerillo talks about DGDA's far-reaching plans to rival such global attractions as the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome. 
  • Jerry Inzerillo made the remarks on Frankly Speaking, a series of video conversations with leading Middle East decision-makers
  • Project’s budget has been increased from $27 billion to $40 billion, and its scope increased significantly, he said

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is doubling down on its landmark Diriyah Gate project to build a leisure and cultural zone in the historic heart of Riyadh.

Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of the authority that runs the landmark project, told Arab News that his budget has been increased from $27 billion to $40 billion, and its scope increased significantly.

“What has happened is that the master plans, (following further) research, have evolved into a broader vision to allow it to be a component (of the strategy to turn) Riyadh into one of the 10 great cities of the world,” he said.

Inzerillo, a veteran of the global tourism business who was appointed to the top job at the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) in 2018, revealed the project’s new ambitions in an interview with “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video conversations with leading business and political leaders.

The inaugural celebration of Diriyah Gate. (Supplied)

During the interview, he also spoke of the DGDA’s prime place within the Vision 2030 giga-projects, the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Kingdom’s tourism industry, and its far-reaching plans to rival such global attractions as the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome.

The move to increase the project’s budget and scope was the brainchild of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, Inzerillo said.

“It’s not just that we were given some more money. It’s a result of a change in vision. He (the crown prince) studies plans meticulously. As the smartest guy in the room, his visual acuity is amazing,” he said.

Old structures in Diriyah, the site of the first Saudi Kingdom in the 18th century, have been preserved. (Supplied)

"So, the same way Paris was master-planned and laid out, the same way Berlin was laid out, the same way Manhattan was laid out — this is how the crown prince looks at all the cities and that’s why we’ve grown.”

Diriyah, the site of the first Saudi Kingdom in the 18th century, is regarded as the centerpiece of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy and provide more leisure and cultural facilities for Saudi citizens, as well as attracting foreign tourists.

“There’s only one Diriyah. We’re the first born, we’re the favorite son. My fellow CEOs can come on the show and say, ‘No, we’re great.’ They’re all great, we love them, but there’s only one Diriyah,” Inzerillo said.

He insisted that Diriyah Gate and the other mega-projects are on time and have not been unduly delayed by the economic effects of the pandemic.

 

 

The budgets of the other big leisure projects — such as the Red Sea Development and AlUla — have not been cut back, he said.

“We executed our exact strategy all of 2020; we didn’t cut back. He (the crown prince) was brave,” Inzerillo added. “So now as a result of it, the major giga-projects in the Kingdom are on time and on budget.”

Some of the big projects will “need another budget cycle” to determine the right mix of equity and new investment required, but he is confident that the overall investment will be met by government funds, investment from the Saudi private sector and foreign investment.

Some tourism experts have questioned the overall strategy, which seeks to attract 100 million visits by the end of the decade to a variety of new leisure and cultural attractions, but Inzerillo said the projects are not in competition. “They’re very intelligently crafted to complement each other,” he added.

The reason for the big number of new tourism projects, he said, is that Saudi Arabia is trying to compete with other recognized global travel centers — such as Singapore and European countries — within a short space of time.

 

 

Inzerillo conceded that there has been an effect on the number of people visiting Saudi Arabia because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, but he estimated that it has been proportionately less than other big tourist destinations such as France and the US. “We’re coming off a low base,” he said.

In line with the new budget, the DGDA has lifted the estimate for the number of visitors it hopes to attract. It now expects 27 million visits and 100,000 residents by 2030.

Inzerillo said these estimates are achievable, and he took encouragement from the number of people applying for the new tourism visa — 55,000 per week — before the COVID-19 restrictions came into effect.

Diriyah is aimed at both Saudi domestic visitors and foreign tourists, seeking to capitalize on the rich historical legacy of the region.

 

 

Inzerillo is convinced that it can take its place among the other great cultural attractions of the world.

“It is to Saudi Arabia what the Acropolis is to the Greeks, what the Colosseum is to Rome, what Machu Picchu is to Peruvians,” he said.

“So when people come to the Gulf, they’re going to want to see where it all started — the home of the House of Saud.”

Inzerillo, who trained in Las Vegas and went on to international projects in South Africa, the UAE and elsewhere, believes that the absence of alcohol in Saudi Arabia will make little difference to its attractiveness to tourists.

When global focus groups were asked about their priorities for tourism in the Kingdom, the non-availability of alcohol in the food and beverage mix was not in the top five concerns, he said.

 

 

“People were astonished by the beauty of the Kingdom, and by the warmth of the Saudi people,” he added.

Originally from Brooklyn in New York City, Inzerillo is enthusiastic about the quality of life in Saudi Arabia for him and other Western expatriates, who make up about 20 percent of the DGDA workforce.

 

 

“But the No. 1 thing that people like is civility — the fact that you’re treated warmly and kindly, and the great thing about the Kingdom right now as a society — it’s optimistic, it’s positive,” he said.

Inzerillo also gave some insight into the decision-making style of the crown prince, whom he described as a “supercharged CEO.”

Inzerillo said: “He’s very methodical, asking, ‘What’s your process? How did you study this issue? Who did you study it with? Did you study it with the world’s best? What did you learn, and what options are you bringing to me?’

“So when you leave a meeting with an approval, he doesn’t stop. One day, two days, five days later, you’ll get a call from him. ‘If you connect that with that, doesn’t it make Diriyah better?’ ‘Yes sir, we didn’t see that’.”

_________

Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Women can register for Hajj without male guardian

Women can register for Hajj without male guardian
Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Arafat southeast of the Saudi holy city of Makkah, on Arafat Day which is the climax of the Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP file photo)
Updated 14 June 2021

Women can register for Hajj without male guardian

Women can register for Hajj without male guardian
  • Ministry approves three packages’ prices range between $3,230 and $4,426

JEDDAH: Three packages have been approved for this year’s pilgrimage, with a government ministry saying that people could register online for Hajj including women without a mahram (male guardian).

Registration for this year’s Hajj opened at 1 p.m on Sunday after the government said it would limit this year’s cohort to citizens and residents of the Kingdom.
Registration is available until 10 p.m. on June 23. There is no priority for early applicants.
Costs for the three approved packages are SR16,560.50 ($4,426), SR14,381.95, and SR12,113.95. VAT will be added to the price of each package.
According to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s website, people will be bussed to the holy sites and there will be a maximum of 20 pilgrims per vehicle.
They will be supplied with three daily meals in Mina and two meals (breakfast and lunch) in Arafat. They will be given dinner in Muzdalifah. Other food and beverage services will be available, but  pilgrims are not allowed to bring food with them from outside Makkah.
Applications will go through five stages. These include a prospective pilgrim reviewing and acknowledging health information and providing personal details based on their official papers. After that, the system will verify the applicant’s eligibility for Hajj based on the data provided by the National Information Center.
Once an application is accepted, the applicant will be given a registration number for further inquiries. After ensuring an applicant’s COVID-19 status — fully immune, immune by the first dose, or immune after recovery — a text message with the payment details will be sent out.

HIGHLIGHT

Costs for the three approved packages are SR16,560.50 ($4,426), SR14,381.95, and SR12,113.95. VAT will be added to the price of each package.

The ministry said that registering for Hajj did not mean a final Hajj permit had been granted.
“A Hajj permit will only be issued after an application is found to meet all the mandatory health conditions and regulations,” it added. “The ministry has the right to reject a request at any time, in case it was found to be violating the organizing regulations.”
Before a Hajj permit request can be sent, all applicants must acknowledge that they have not performed Hajj in the last five years, they are not suffering from any chronic disease, and are not infected with COVID-19.
People must also acknowledge that they have not been admitted to a hospital due to chronic diseases or for dialysis treatment in the past six months.
On Saturday it was announced that 60,000 pilgrims would be allowed to perform this year’s Hajj, which begins mid-July.
Authorities also said that those wishing to perform Hajj must be free of any chronic diseases and be aged between 18 and 65.
The decision was “based on the Kingdom’s constant keenness to enable the guests and visitors at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque to perform the rituals of Hajj and Umrah,” the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said. “The Kingdom puts human health and safety first.”
The “sorting” phase of the Hajj application process starts on June 25, according to an official ministry tweet, which also said that applicants should pay for their package within three hours of selecting it to avoid cancelation. Priority will be for registered applicants who have never performed Hajj, it added.


Trial run: 6,000 students get a taste of careers in medicine, engineering and science across Saudi Arabia

Trial run: 6,000 students get a taste of careers in medicine, engineering and science across Saudi Arabia
The annual summer program aims to enrich student’s knowledge, increase their efficiency, promote their readiness, and develop their practical and scientific expertise. (Supplied)
Updated 14 June 2021

Trial run: 6,000 students get a taste of careers in medicine, engineering and science across Saudi Arabia

Trial run: 6,000 students get a taste of careers in medicine, engineering and science across Saudi Arabia
  • The remote program aims to teach students the scientific curriculum of enrichment units and train them in specific skills

RIYADH: Six thousand students from the Kingdom will have the chance to become engineers, doctors and scientists in 23 different fields for 21 days as part of the Mawhiba academic enrichment program.
One of the world’s largest scientific programs, organized by the King Abdul Aziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba), began on June 13 across five Saudi universities, to be followed by a second phase that will be held virtually.
The advanced scientific units were developed in cooperation with the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY).
This comes within the program provided by Mawhiba for talented students discovered through the national program, held yearly by the foundation in partnership with the Education Ministry.
Students in the Kingdom can register for the program directly or via their schools. The annual summer program aims to enrich student’s knowledge, increase their efficiency, promote their readiness, develop their practical and scientific expertise, challenge their capacities and develop their skills.
“The academic enrichment program provided this summer covers the scientific and skills’ aspects, to promote student’s personal and social skills and help them acquire the skills of the 21st century,” a statement from Mawhiba said.
Mawhiba’s academic enrichment programs this year will be held in in-person and remotely. The in-person attendance program will run from June 13 to July 1 and provide students with a total of 90 hours’ experience, six hours a day.
Top academics will teach the scientific curriculum for four hours a day with two hours of skills’ development.
The remote program aims to teach students the scientific curriculum of enrichment units and train them in specific skills. Students will receive a total of 60 hours training in this program, divided into four hours a day; three hours dedicated to the scientific curriculum and one hour to skills’ development.
The second phase of the enrichment program will be held from Aug. 1-19, 2021.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Mawhiba’s academic enrichment programs this year will be held in in-person and remotely.

• The in-person attendance program will run from June 13 to July 1 and provide students with a total of 90 hours’ experience; six hours a day.

Attendance will be mandatory for students in five universities: King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, King Saud University in Riyadh, Princess Noura University in Riyadh, Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University in Dammam and the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in Dhahran.
The annual program reflects all training and qualification aspects for students. Those selected to train the students are among the best academics who receive periodical sessions and programs according to the best technology, sciences and direct and virtual teaching techniques, to deliver the information to students and create a positive environment for innovation, learning and motivation.
“Mawhiba ensured that the training program provided to teachers includes specialized training sessions, to promote the coaches’ role in helping students acquire the skills and basics of rational thinking, empower them to deeply understand self-confidence skills, and provide them the scientific steps and techniques for problem-solving and decision-making skills,” the foundation said.
The number of students enrolled in Mawhiba’s summer enrichment programs has reached 5,887 to date, with the program able to receive up to 6,000 students. A hundred and thirteen seats are still empty, including seven seats for the attendance program and 106 for the virtual program.
The program provided for Mawhiba’s discovered talents is part of a journey in which students undergo different scientific experiences.
Over the past 10 years, talented students discovered by Mawhiba have represented the Kingdom in scientific competitions and events around the world. They have won 500 international prizes; 415 international prizes in scientific contests and 85 international prizes in International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) — the world’s most prestigious scientific competition for students.