Saudi businesses to remain open during prayer times

People follow social distancing markings as they line up at a shopping mall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS file photo)
People follow social distancing markings as they line up at a shopping mall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS file photo)
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Updated 17 July 2021

Saudi businesses to remain open during prayer times

People follow social distancing markings as they line up at a shopping mall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS file photo)
  • The debate to keep shops and businesses open during prayer times has been a topic of discussion in many settings amongst members of Saudi society for a long time

JEDDAH: For decades, commercial businesses in Saudi Arabia have shut their doors as soon as the first call of prayer is heard. Cars would queue up waiting for petrol stations to open, while patrons and customers at pharmacies, restaurants, and supermarkets would have to wait outside.
Those days of inconvenience are now over.
The Kingdom will allow shops to remain open during prayer times, according to a circular issued by the head of the Saudi Chambers on Friday.
“This is in an effort to improve the shopping experience and the level of services for shoppers and clients,” Ajlan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Ajlan, head of the Saudi Chambers, said in his circular to all members of the Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Commenting on the decision, Ali Sameer Shihabi, an author and commentator on Middle East politics and economics, with a focus on Saudi Arabia, tweeted that keeping shops open during prayer time is another “hugely symbolic and practical step to end the dominance of the religious class in daily life.”
Shihabi also said closing for prayers was an excuse for people to take long breaks or make customers wait for goods and services.
“Even at government departments, it added a huge margin of inefficiency to output in the Kingdom,” he said.
Habibullah Al-Torkistani, an economist, told Arab News the decision would have no effect on the national economy.
“What supports my opinion is that workers in shops take a midday break,” he said. “Even when allowing shops to operate during prayer time, shops will stop working to give workers a break. This is a part of the workers’ rights.”
Al-Torkistani added that outlets that sell necessary items, such as stores on highways, can possibly benefit from the decision.
“Employees decide when to stop working to perform their religious duties and no one can prevent them,” he said.
The debate to keep shops and businesses open during prayer times has been a topic of discussion in many settings amongst members of Saudi society for a long time.
Prior to the recent reforms, violations were regulated by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), also known as Haia, or the religious police. Officers of the commission had the power to arrest and punish shopkeepers for even delaying the closure of their stores for a few minutes. Punishments ranged from detention to deportation for expatriate shop attendants.


Saudi Human Resources Development Fund approves 106 professional, technical diplomas

Saudi Human Resources Development Fund approves 106 professional, technical diplomas
Updated 05 August 2021

Saudi Human Resources Development Fund approves 106 professional, technical diplomas

Saudi Human Resources Development Fund approves 106 professional, technical diplomas

RIYADH: The Saudi Human Resources Development Fund (Hadaf) approved 106 professional and technical diplomas in various specializations and fields. 

The certifications are linked to the requirements of the labor market with the aim of raising the efficiency of the national workforce.

The professional certification program supports Hadaf’s other initiatives in improving professional training, increasing competitiveness among the workforce in specialized fields and stimulating professional development.

The Hadaf program offers an interconnected set of specialized courses designed to provide and enhance basic professional skills in areas of specialization, reflecting positively on career performance.

It targets all citizens wishing to develop their professional career by obtaining a certificate, whether the applicant is a government or private sector employee, job seeker or student.

With its focus on professional training and certification, the fund aims to boost labor market productivity to reach international standards and create new career opportunities.

To benefit from the program, applicants must have an accredited professional certificate and acknowledgment from their employer stating that they are not covering the fees of obtaining it.

Each applicant can process a maximum of two certificates. For payment, the applicant must file a claim through the taqat.sa website along with a copy of the professional certificate.

After verifying the validity of the certificate, the related costs are transferred directly to the applicant’s account through the IBAN number given on the registration page.


US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers

US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers
Updated 21 min 25 sec ago

US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers

US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers
  • Requirement would come as part of the administration’s phased approach to easing travel restrictions for foreign citizens to the country
WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is taking the first steps toward requiring nearly all foreign visitors to the US to be vaccinated for the coronavirus, a White House official said.
The requirement would come as part of the administration’s phased approach to easing travel restrictions for foreign citizens to the country. No timeline has yet been determined, as interagency working groups study how and when to safely move toward resuming normal travel. Eventually all foreign citizens entering the country, with some limited exceptions, are expected to need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the US.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity Wednesday to preview the policy under development.
The Biden administration has kept in place travel restrictions that have severely curtailed international trips to the US, citing the spread of the delta variant of the virus.
Under the rules, non-US residents who have been to China, the European Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa and India in the prior 14 days are prohibited from entering the US
All travelers to the US, regardless of vaccination status, are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of air travel to the country.
The Biden administration has faced pressure to lift some restrictions from affected allies, the air travel industry and families who have been kept separated from loved ones by the rules. Many have complained that the travel restrictions don’t reflect the current virus situation — particularly as caseloads in the US are worse than in many of the prohibited nations.
Airlines for America, a trade group for major US airlines, said it was pleased by reports that the administration plans to make it easier for more foreign travelers to enter the country if they have been vaccinated.

Sea ambulance service launched in KSA’s Farasan Island

Sea ambulance service launched in KSA’s Farasan Island
Updated 05 August 2021

Sea ambulance service launched in KSA’s Farasan Island

Sea ambulance service launched in KSA’s Farasan Island
  • Sea ambulance cost $3.6m and is equipped with the latest safety systems, five beds, a CPR device, and a shock-absorbent stretcher
  • Will be able to transfer emergency cases from Farasan Island to Jazan Port within 45 minutes

JAZAN: Jazan Gov. Prince Mohammed bin Nasser bin Abdul Aziz on Wednesday inaugurated a sea ambulance service in the Farasan Island governorate.

The governor listened to a detailed briefing from Jazan Health Director Dr. Awaji Al-Naami about the sea ambulance, which was manufactured at a cost of SR13.6 million ($3.6 million) and is equipped with the latest safety systems.

The sea ambulance has up to five beds, including an ICU bed, along with a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) device, a shock-absorbent stretcher that can adapt to waves and rough conditions at sea, a suction device, and medicines needed for emergency care.

Prince Mohammed also reviewed the action plan of the sea ambulance, which can transfer emergency cases from Farasan Island to Jazan Port within 45 minutes.

He got acquainted with the smart systems that enable the medical transfer operations center at the Emergency, Disasters, and Ambulatory Transportation General Department at the Jazan Health Directorate. The smart systems can also monitor the sea ambulance’s movements in the sea until it arrives at the port.

The sea ambulance is part of the Ministry of Health’s endeavors to provide health services to citizens and residents alike.


61 quarantine violators arrested in Saudi Arabia

61 quarantine violators arrested in Saudi Arabia
Updated 05 August 2021

61 quarantine violators arrested in Saudi Arabia

61 quarantine violators arrested in Saudi Arabia
  • Health Ministry reports 1,043 new coronavirus cases, 1,211 recoveries, 14 deaths
  • 28,492,380 people in the country had to date received a jab against COVID-19

RIYADH: A total of 61 offenders have been arrested  in Saudi Arabia in the past week for failing to adhere to quarantine regulations after their infection of the virus was confirmed.

The media spokesman for the police in Hail region, Captain Tariq Al-Nassar, said that a video circulating of a man with a positive PCR test wandering about in a shopping mall had led to his arrest after the authorities identified him. Legal action has now been taken against him.

Al-Nassar said that the penalties for violators of the precautionary and preventive measures against COVID-19 included a fine of no more than SR500,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years, or both. 

In Qassim region, the media spokesman for the police, Lt. Col. Badr Al-Suhaibani, said that 60 people were arrested for violating quarantine regulations after it was confirmed that they were infected with the virus. 

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday reported 14 more COVID-19-related deaths, taking the overall toll to 8,284.

There were 1,043 new cases, meaning that 529,995 people in the country had now contracted the disease. A total of 10,393 cases remained active, of which 1,396 patients were in critical condition.

FASTFACTS

Saudi Arabia reported 1,043 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 529,995

A total of 10,393 cases remained active, of which 1,396 patients were in critical condition.

The death toll has risen to 8,284 with 14 more virus-related fatalities

28,492,380 people in the country had to date received a jab against COVID-19

Of the newly recorded cases, 214 were in Makkah region, 192 in Riyadh region, 169 in the Eastern Province, and 65 in Madinah region.

In addition, the ministry said that 1,211 patients had recovered from the disease, increasing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 511,318.

The region with the highest recovery rate is Riyadh at 267, followed by Makkah at 217 and Eastern Province at 200.

Saudi Arabia had so far conducted 25,443,550 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, with 106,517 carried out in the past 24 hours.

Testing hubs and treatment centers set up throughout the country have dealt with hundreds of thousands of people since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

Among them, Taakad (make sure) centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or only mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual. Tetamman (rest assured) clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms such as fever, loss of taste and smell, and breathing difficulties.

Appointments for both services can be made via the ministry’s Sehhaty app.

Meanwhile, 28,492,380 people in the country had to date received a jab against COVID-19, including 1,496,037 elderly people. About 55.9 percent of the population had received the first dose, while 25.9 percent had completed both doses. At this rate, 70 percent of the population is expected to have completed both doses by September 28, 2021.

Meanwhile, Rafha Health Affairs in the northern region of the Kingdom, represented by the Central Hospital, has activated virtual clinics for patients benefiting from its services in outpatient clinics.

This gives patients the option to remotely attend medical appointments in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. The management of Central Hospital explained that this service allows direct communication between doctors and their patients through interactive video communication.

“We have made remote clinics available to save people’s time and efforts, as it is possible to communicate directly with the doctor, without the need to come to the clinic,” the minister of health said earlier.


Murder case in Philippines fuels call for action to halt attacks by rogue cops on Muslims

Murder case in Philippines fuels call for action to halt attacks by rogue cops on Muslims
Updated 05 August 2021

Murder case in Philippines fuels call for action to halt attacks by rogue cops on Muslims

Murder case in Philippines fuels call for action to halt attacks by rogue cops on Muslims
  • Online retailer Nadia Casar was allegedly kidnapped, held to ransom and killed by a group of police officers and civilians. Her body was burned
  • Community leaders and politicians condemned the gruesome killing and call on police chief to end discrimination against the Islamic community

MANILA: The gruesome murder of a Muslim woman in the Philippines has caused anger and outrage among the Islamic community in the country. Businesswoman Nadia Casar was allegedly kidnapped, held to ransom and killed by a group of police officers and civilians. Her body was burned.

“The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) strongly condemns the brutal slaying and corpse desecration by burning of Muslim Filipino businesswoman Nadia Casar,” said Dimapuno Datu-Ramos, a spokesman for the commission. “She was allegedly killed by members of the police.”

At least five police officers are accused of involvement in the death of Casar. They are: Benedict Matias Reyes, a staff sergeant from the Santa Rosa municipal police station in Nueva Ecija; June Malillin, a staff sergeant from Palayan City police station; Julius Alcantara, a corporal from Nueva Ecija Provincial Police Drug Enforcement; Rowen Martin, a master sergeant from the Cabanatuan City police station; and Drextemir Esmundo, a staff sergeant from the Cabiao municipal police station.

Two civilian suspects have also been named: Franklin Macapagal and Dario Robarios.

According to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG), 35-year-old online retailer Casar hired a ride-share driver on July 20 to take her from Cavite province in southern Luzon to Santa Rosa, Nueva Ecija, in Central Luzon, for a business meeting with Macapagal. The driver was taking her back to Cavite after the meeting when, at about 1.45 p.m. they found the road blocked by a pick-up truck and two motorcycles. Five armed men are said to have got out of the vehicle and kidnapped them.

Police said the driver was robbed of his belongings, including 4,500 pesos ($90) in cash, and released at about 3.00 a.m. on July 21. Casar’s charred remains were discovered on Aug. 1 in a shallow grave in Sitio Pinagpala, Barangay Imelda Valley, Palayan City.

The suspects came to the attention of the AKG after the ride-share driver said he recognized one of them as an officer in a group photograph hanging on the wall of a police station in Santa Rosa police station. This led them to Reyes, who was arrested on July 29. Two days later, Alcantara voluntarily surrendered himself and was taken into custody. Malillin reportedly admitted his role in the crime, and Alcantara implicated Martin and Esmundo, who are still at large.

Robarios, the caretaker of a house where Casar was allegedly held captive, was arrested in a follow-up operation. He reportedly confessed and claimed that Malillin, Martin, and Esmundo had ordered him to bury Casar’s remains. Macapagal, who has also eluded arrest, was identified from a driver’s license found inside the house.

The ride-share driver reportedly told investigators he “heard one of the suspects order Casar to tell her family that they have to pay a ransom in exchange for her release.” Investigators suspect she was killed when her relatives were unable to pay.

“We call upon PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar to fulfill his commitment to cleanse his ranks of … criminals,” said NCMF spokesman Datu-Ramos. “The Muslim Filipino community has long been patient with the promises made by the PNP to protect all Filipinos, regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation.

“This abhorrent crime is a violation of Philippine Law, a transgression of basic human rights, and a blatant disregard of the Islamic rituals in handling the dead. This must not be ignored.

“NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan also calls upon the country’s leaders … to create legislation that would ensure the safety of minorities who have been repeatedly targeted by corrupt men in uniform. A heavier sanction must be placed upon those who have sworn to protect all life, yet have been proven to abuse their power and authority.”

Mujiv Hataman, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives and the representative for Basilan, also condemned the killing, and called on Eleazar to ensure an “exhaustive investigation” of the case.

“It is reprehensible to think that those who are supposed to protect and serve the people are the same ones behind this savagery,” Hataman said. “Casar’s case was not an isolated case, since there have been reports in the past about Muslims, especially traders, becoming victims of abuse, being robbed and some of them even getting killed by rogue policemen.

“I urge the PNP to investigate the occurrences of crimes perpetrated by wayward members of the police against Muslims, to put an end to these kinds of incidents,” he added, and called on the PNP to take action to “stop discrimination against their Muslim brothers.”

He highlighted as an example the case of a Muslim couple from Lanao del Sur who died in a robbery and shooting incident in Pasay City that was committed by “policemen in uniform,” according to witnesses.

In another incident last year, Hataman said, members of the Manila police were involved in an eight-hour standoff with the family and neighbors of two Muslim jewelry traders in the capital’s San Andres Bukid district. Officers allegedly searched and arrested the victims without a warrant and without identifying themselves. Hataman and other politicians filed a resolution in June last year calling for an investigation into the incident.

Eleazar assured Casar’s family that “justice will be served” in the case and he had ordered the immediate dismissal of the five accused officers. He said he has also tasked the AKG and the Integrity Monitoring and Enforcement Group to launch search operations to find the remaining suspects.

“We strongly condemn this incident,” he said. “I will make sure that the policemen involved in the kidnapping and killing of Nadia Casar will be dismissed from the service and held accountable for their crime.”

He added that he has additionally ordered an investigation to determine whether other police officers have been involved in kidnap-for-ransom activities.