Saudi minister highlights Kingdom’s work in responding to COVID-19 pandemic at Belt and Road Initiative meeting

Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji was speaking during a high-level meeting on International Cooperation Under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the Asia-Pacific Region, hosted by China. (SPA)
Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji was speaking during a high-level meeting on International Cooperation Under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the Asia-Pacific Region, hosted by China. (SPA)
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Updated 24 June 2021

Saudi minister highlights Kingdom’s work in responding to COVID-19 pandemic at Belt and Road Initiative meeting

Saudi minister highlights Kingdom’s work in responding to COVID-19 pandemic at Belt and Road Initiative meeting
  • Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji also tells meeting on international cooperation about the nation’s environmental credentials

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji told an international gathering on Wednesday how the Kingdom’s government went to great lengths to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and protect public health.
Speaking on behalf of Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan during a virtual, high-level meeting on International Cooperation Under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the Asia-Pacific Region, hosted by China, he said Saudi authorities implemented stringent precautionary and health measures to the highest international medical standards, along with World Health Organization protocols.
Al-Khuraij added that his country worked last year, during its presidency of the G20, to amend the program for the group’s annual summit to focus mainly on addressing the pandemic, including its effects on health and its economic and social consequences. In addition, the efforts of all working groups were intensified in an effort to address the most important issues affecting the lives of people all over the world.
He said Saudi Arabia continues to work closely with international partners to address the pandemic, based on a belief in the importance of international cooperation. It also shares with the world its experience of the challenges and difficulties it has faced, as an extension of its international partnerships and in response to humanitarian calls from around the world, to which the Kingdom has spared no effort in responding in an effort to improve people’s lives.
The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 diversification and development program highlighted environmental and sustainable development among its main objectives, he added, and stressed the need to emphasize the preservation of the environment during the nation’s presidency of the G20. It therefore placed this at the forefront of its agenda, based on a desire to ensure sustainability and find feasible solutions to global environmental, climate and energy issues.
Al-Khuraij also highlighted the Saudi and Middle East Green initiatives announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in March, which aim to protect the planet and combat environmental challenges. Among other ambitious targets, they aim to reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent in the region, and plant 50 billion trees as part of the world’s biggest afforestation project.


ThePlace: Asfa village in Saudi Arabia’s Bani Malek

ThePlace: Asfa village in Saudi Arabia’s Bani Malek
Asfa is a favorite with photographers seeking to capture its historic buildings and architectural heritage. (SPA)
Updated 21 sec ago

ThePlace: Asfa village in Saudi Arabia’s Bani Malek

ThePlace: Asfa village in Saudi Arabia’s Bani Malek
  • Asfa was established more than 300 years at a time when villages began springing up along the Sarawat mountains

The traditional village of Asfa in Bani Malek, located in the governorate of Maysan in Makkah, has been the center of attention for tourism activists, and is popular with nature and heritage enthusiasts.
The village is known for its architectural features, with stone structures built on giant white rocks and displaying a unique design.
Village buildings have beautiful timber facades that blend with the area’s natural surroundings.
Asfa was established more than 300 years at a time when villages began springing up along the Sarawat mountains.
Houses in the area have large living rooms. similar to a majlis, and other rooms designed for multiple purposes, with open spaces beyond for livestock and farming. Wooden carvings and cultural features reflect the original residents’ tastes and ideas.
Located in the south of Taif, Asfa is a favorite with photographers seeking to capture its historic buildings and architectural heritage.
The village is surrounded by valleys, mountains, farmland and trees, and has a flowing stream, as well as gardens of grapes, figs and almonds.
Asfa’s traditional houses, and its cultural and historical
value, are central to efforts to preserve the village for future generations.


Film Commission launches its strategy to develop Saudi film, cinema sector

The Film Commission launched its strategy at a ceremony in Riyadh, held under the patronage of Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan. (SPA)
The Film Commission launched its strategy at a ceremony in Riyadh, held under the patronage of Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan. (SPA)
Updated 12 min 23 sec ago

Film Commission launches its strategy to develop Saudi film, cinema sector

The Film Commission launched its strategy at a ceremony in Riyadh, held under the patronage of Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan. (SPA)
  • The strategy aims to increase direct GDP contribution, increase job opportunities, and increase the number of locally produced feature films

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Film Commission on Sunday launched its strategy to develop the Kingdom’s film and cinema sector at a ceremony in the capital, Riyadh.
The ceremony was held under the patronage of Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, the minister of culture and chairman of the commission.
Hamed Fayez, the deputy minister of culture and vice chairman of the commission’s board of directors, said that the strategy, with its diverse and comprehensive programs and initiatives, represents a first step toward developing the sector and supporting and empowering Saudi filmmakers.
Fayez said the Kingdom has great potential in the industry due to creative Saudi talent winning awards at regional and international film festivals, Saudi films that have achieved remarkable recognition locally and internationally, and the growth of the production movement in recent years.
The Film Commission’s CEO Abdullah Al-Ayyaf said the strategy contributes to achieving the goals of the Ministry of Culture and the Kingdom’s Vision 2020 National Culture Strategy, by achieving growth in the Saudi film production sector and transforming it into a competitive industry.
It includes producing local cinematic content to attract Saudi and international audiences, and presenting the Kingdom as a leading global center for film production in the Middle East, he added.
The strategy was based on a benchmark comparison with the 20 most important countries in the film industry.
It includes six strategic pillars, including talent development, infrastructure, local production in the Kingdom, international production in the Kingdom, regulatory framework, film distribution and screening.
According to the strategy, the Film Commission will work on 19 strategic initiatives aimed at creating a large movement in the Saudi film sector, providing an infrastructure for film production, and empowering Saudi talents and capabilities.
The commission said its strategy was designed to increase direct contribution to the gross domestic product, increase the number of job opportunities in the film sector, and increase the number of locally produced feature films. 
The Film Commission is one of 11 cultural bodies affiliated with the Ministry of Culture and was established in February last year.


Kaspersky, Saudi Technology Control to combat cyberattack

Dr. Bandar Al-Haqbani, Dr. Abdulaziz Alhussain, Engineer Mohammad Alwashmi and Mohammad Hashem at the conference. (Supplied)
Dr. Bandar Al-Haqbani, Dr. Abdulaziz Alhussain, Engineer Mohammad Alwashmi and Mohammad Hashem at the conference. (AN photo by Rahaf Jambi)
Updated 18 min 18 sec ago

Kaspersky, Saudi Technology Control to combat cyberattack

Dr. Bandar Al-Haqbani, Dr. Abdulaziz Alhussain, Engineer Mohammad Alwashmi and Mohammad Hashem at the conference. (Supplied)
  • Saudi Arabia is currently developing digitization and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, blockchain, fintech and 5G across its public and private sector

RIYADH: Global cybersecurity firm Kaspersky has signed a strategic agreement with Technology Control Company, a security services, digital services and big data company in Saudi Arabia, at the @Hack Infosec Conference 2021.
The managed security service provider agreement was marked at the conference, one of Saudi Arabia’s most anticipated information-security events of the year.
The move is in line with Technology Control Company’s commitment to providing its customers in Saudi Arabia with enhanced managed security services.
Mohamad Hashem, country manager at Kaspersky, told Arab News how new technologies increased the risk and exposure to cyberattacks by opening new avenues of attack.
“Taking this into account, Kaspersky is delighted to expand and strengthen Technology Control Company’s portfolio and offer customers in Saudi Arabia the most effective prevention, detection and response capabilities to the market,”  he said.

Dr. Abdulaziz Alhussain from TCC and Mohammad Hashem singing the agreement in @hack conference. (AN photo by Rahaf Jambi)

“Our innovative solutions and extensive expertise will ensure that our customers in the region receive the best data protection possible via a trusted local technology and service provider,”  he said.
Technology Control Company will be offering Kaspersky’s resources and services such as Security Operations Center consulting, security assessment, awareness and training.
The Kingdom is currently developing digitization and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, blockchain, fintech and 5G across its public and private sector.

Taking this into account, Kaspersky is delighted to expand and strengthen Technology Control Company’s portfolio and offer customers in Saudi Arabia the most effective prevention, detection and response capabilities to the market.

Mohamad Hashem, Country manager at Kaspersky

As the country continues its road to digitization and adoption of these technologies, Kaspersky expects a steady rise in cyberattacks.
The partnership will play a key role in navigating these risks by helping Technology Control Company deliver security monitoring, incident response, threat hunting, threat intelligence, managed detection and response, security assessment and security awareness services in a cost-efficient, scalable and flexible way.
Technology Control Company’s customers in Saudi Arabia will be able to subscribe to next-generation SOC services based on solutions in line with global industry standards. Providing training such as incident response, malware analysis and digital forensics is another essential element of the alliance.
Hashem expressed his excitement about participation at @hack event and said that this was the first time the event was being held outside the US.
“Of course, we had to be a part of this great event because Kaspersky is one of the leading companies in the cybersecurity realm, and we are glad to be here,”  Hashem said.
He said that the company had signed an initiative with Cyberkids to help promote a better understanding of cybersecurity.
Muhammad Alwashmi, security services director at Technology Control Company, said that they were glad to partner with an international company with worldwide exposure and intelligence specific to the region.
“This agreement will support and provide our customers with premium protection to their businesses through the best solutions available in the market. Having Kaspersky on board will contribute to our success, and we are looking forward to a prosperous collaboration,”  Alwashmi said.


Saudi falconry festival starts in Riyadh

Saudi falconry festival starts in Riyadh. (SPA)
Saudi falconry festival starts in Riyadh. (SPA)
Updated 10 min 34 sec ago

Saudi falconry festival starts in Riyadh

Saudi falconry festival starts in Riyadh. (SPA)
  • The festival holds a competition to select the most beautiful falcons in seven rounds, two are allocated for the Farkh category and five are for the Qirnas category

RIYADH: The King Abdulaziz Falconry Festival 2021 started on Sunday in Malham, north of Riyadh, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

It runs until Dec. 16 and is being organized by the Saudi Falcons Club, which has allocated more than SR25 million ($6.66 million) for winners.

The festival, the largest of its kind in the world, opened with the qualifying runs for Saudi falconers. These started with the Shaheen Farkh category of Saudi owners, with strong competition for a place in the final rounds for the King Abdulaziz Cup.

There will be runs for international falconers in the categories of owners and professionals.

The festival also holds a competition to select the most beautiful falcons in seven rounds, two are allocated for the Farkh category and five are for the Qirnas category.

Through these events, the festival aims to preserve Saudi heritage, pass on the hobby of falconry to future generations, educate children about their history and values, and enhance the spirit of competition among falconers.

The festival continues to register falcons in some categories until Dec. 9 to accommodate the largest number of falconers wishing to participate.

 


Early global response to omicron variant could save lives, says Saudi virologist

Early global response to omicron variant could save lives, says Saudi virologist
Updated 23 min 46 sec ago

Early global response to omicron variant could save lives, says Saudi virologist

Early global response to omicron variant could save lives, says Saudi virologist
  • As of Sunday, Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry said that no omicron cases had been detected in the country so far
  • Kingdom suspended flights from 14 African countries

JEDDAH: With the COVID-19 omicron variant prompting renewed concern about the pandemic, a virologist has told Arab News that its early detection is a positive first step to overcoming the mutation.

Omicron, or the B.1.1529 strain of the coronavirus, was marked a variant of concern on Nov. 26 by the World Health Organization, the fifth variant of concern to date.

But, as of Sunday, Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry said that no omicron cases had been detected in the country so far.

All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, change over time. Most changes have little to no impact on the properties of the virus. 

However, some may affect the transmissibility rate, associated disease severity, or the performance of vaccines.

Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Abdullah Algaissi, a virologist and assistant professor at the college of medical sciences at Jazan University, said: “The interesting thing about omicron is that it accumulated a very high number of mutations compared to other VOCs. The total number of mutations in the spike, the most important part of the virus, was 32, 10 of which were detected that bind to receptors on human cells. That's more than the delta variant, hence the concern.”

The WHO called for increased surveillance of the variant and laboratory experiments to better understand its biology.

The delta variant had nine mutations in the spike gene. According to Algaissi, there are shared mutations between the two, but what makes omicron more of a concern is the additional mutations.

HIGHLIGHT

Saudi Arabia suspended inbound and outbound flights from 14 African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, Angola, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Comoros.

“Based on what we know from the genetic sequencing, we don't have information that could tell us if these mutations will make the virus more lethal, more transmissible, if it will impact the immune response either after infection or vaccination. As of now, we don't know.”

Data shows that most of the infected patients in South Africa were unvaccinated, indicating that the vaccine's efficacy may still protect against omicron, but further studies are needed to determine by how much vaccine efficacy is reduced.

“Of the many concerns when it comes to VOCs is the effect it has on the diagnostic tool, in this case, the PCR tests,” added Algaissi. “Looking at the omicron mutation, early analysis shows that the current PCR used, especially here in the Kingdom, will still detect the variant.”

According to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data database, more than 5.5 million COVID-19 genome sequence submissions have been made so far.

Last month, Saudi Arabia urged residents to get their booster shots to increase herd immunity further. Currently, 70 percent of the Kingdom's 34.8 million population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

As of Sunday, Saudi Arabia temporarily suspended inbound and outbound flights from 14 African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, Angola, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Comoros.

Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday it would extend the validity of resident permits and exit and re-entry visas from countries facing entry suspension. The General Directorate of Passports said the move was the implementation of directive from King Salman.

The visas are extended until Jan. 1, 2022, without fees or charges. People were notified by email, where an e-visa form was attached.

Another concern is transmissibility. Algaissi noted the difficulty of measuring an increase in the transmissibility rate by the number of infected cases. Multiple factors could increase reported cases, such as the ease of restrictions and low vaccination rates.

“Further studies and experiments are needed to determine if the mutations in omicron enhance its binding to cells, thus becoming more transmissible, and it'll take scientists weeks to understand the omicron variant, including how quickly it can spread and what the illness that results from infection looks like.”

According to South African health experts, omicron symptoms have been “pretty mild" so far.

In a joint press conference on Sunday, the acting CEO of Saudi Arabia's Public Health Authority Dr. Abdullah Algwizani said the variant was being monitored and residents were urged to complete their vaccination schedule, to be wary of large gatherings, and adhere to precautionary measures.

The Kingdom's Health Ministry said that 24 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded on Sunday, raising the total number of cases to 549,695. There have been 32 further recoveries, raising this total to 538,856.

There are currently 2,006 active cases, 48 of which are in critical care. One death was reported.