Saudi health chiefs urge vaccination as COVID-19 cases triple in four days

Over 51.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign started. (File/SPA)
Over 51.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign started. (File/SPA)
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Updated 07 January 2022

Saudi health chiefs urge vaccination as COVID-19 cases triple in four days

Saudi health chiefs urge vaccination as COVID-19 cases triple in four days
  • Health ministry says 424 patients have recovered from the virus in the last 24 hours
  • Municipalities close several businesses and issue fines to a number of others for breaching coronavirus protocols

RIYADH: Health officials urged Saudis on Wednesday to ensure that they were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 after the number of daily cases in the Kingdom more than tripled in four days.

Saudi Arabia reported 3,045 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, compared with 846 on Saturday, Jan. 1.

The Health Ministry confirmed one new COVID-19 related death on Wednesday, raising the total number of fatalities to 8,886.

In a surge in infections fueled by the omicron variant of the virus, the number of new cases has increased almost tenfold in just over a month, from only 34 on Dec. 1. A total of 109 COVID-19 patients are in a critical condition in hospital.

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The highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 855, followed by Jeddah with 647, Makkah with 398, Hofuf confirmed 152, and Dammam recorded 144.

The ministry also announced that 424 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 543,553.

Over 51.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign started. More than 23.2 million people have been fully vaccinated.

While the omicron variant of the virus is less likely to cause serious illness or death, the MoH urged Saudis to receive a booster shot to avoid acute complications.


Saudi municipalities have also ramped up efforts to monitor compliance with health and safety measures.
The municipality of Jeddah carried out 6,008 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities during the last two days. Authorities recorded 41 violations and closed 18 businesses for not adhering to the precautionary measures.
The Eastern Province Municipality carried out 1,388 tours on Tuesday and field teams issued fines to 74 commercial outlets for breaching protocols.
Officials have also called on the public to report any suspected health breaches by phoning the 940 call center number or contacting authorities through the Balady app.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 297 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 5.47 million.


World events behind price spikes, says Saudi minister of commerce

Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi
Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi
Updated 15 sec ago

World events behind price spikes, says Saudi minister of commerce

Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi
  • After 13 months — specifically March 2021 — there were growing signs of economic recovery, Al-Qasabi said, but warning that there was an increase in demand versus supply

JEDDAH: Major events including the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine have caused price hikes around the world, Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi said in a periodic government communication conference on Tuesday.

The press conference discussed four key areas: Global events that led to price increases, the Saudi leadership’s guidance to address the effects of the hikes, repercussions of global events on prices, as well as a question and answer segment.

“Let us rewind two years and a half back to February 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was an economic, social and mental tsunami. It was the biggest economic crisis in the world,” Al-Qasabi said.

“This pandemic affected the whole world all at once, and suddenly without any warning. We are still suffering from its effects,” he added.

“We stayed in the pandemic for 13 months, and after that, it was the beginning of recovery.”

After 13 months — specifically March 2021 — there were growing signs of economic recovery, Al-Qasabi said, but warning that there was an increase in demand versus supply.

“The demand was more than the supply, and this causes an imbalance in the market, when the demand exceeds the supply. Of course, the result will be that prices have risen,” he added.

Al-Qasabi pointed to the Suez Canal obstruction in March 2021 as another event that added to global economic woes.

“We saw the blockage of the navigational movement and the cessation of the navigational movement in the Suez Canal, then after three months — in July 2021 — the second variant of the virus appeared and imposed a curfew again, which caused the closure of some ports and some cities,” he said.

In February 2022, the Russia-Ukraine conflict began. The minister said that the war affected transportation, too.

“We had a crisis between Russia and Ukraine, and we still do not know how long this crisis will last. These events combined, overlapped and completed, leading to a crisis in transportation and supply chains,” he said.

The transportation and supply chain crisis includes the disruption of some transportation ports, such as the main port of Shanghai, a sixfold increase in the cost of transportation, as well as surging freight insurance rates.

Al-Qasabi hailed King Salman’s royal order on Monday that approved the allocation of SR20 billion ($5.32 billion) to help citizens mitigate the impacts of rising global prices.

Half of the allocated money will go to social insurance beneficiaries and the Citizen Account Program.


‘Magnetic attraction’ of Makkah inspires work of Saudi visual artist Ahmed Mater

‘Magnetic attraction’ of Makkah inspires work of Saudi visual artist Ahmed Mater
Updated 05 July 2022

‘Magnetic attraction’ of Makkah inspires work of Saudi visual artist Ahmed Mater

‘Magnetic attraction’ of Makkah inspires work of Saudi visual artist Ahmed Mater

RIYADH: Contemporary artist Ahmed Mater’s first visit to Makkah sparked a magnetic attraction to the holy site that would shape his creative outlook on life.

Similar to many Saudis, his initial interaction with the city was as a child, but his most vivid memories of visiting Makkah came during his medical university years.

He told Arab News that on one trip, surrounded by construction cranes, he felt that his “imagination was more powerful than reality. Sometimes, we dream about change. And it happens because the power of imagination creates all of this movement.”

On his parents’ promise to take him to Makkah for the first time, he said: “They told me I would face something different when in front of the Kaaba, and that I would feel a magnet attraction.”

That moment stuck with him, and he continued building on it to inspire his work through his imagination.

One of Mater’s most popular artworks, “Magnetism,” was constructed using thousands of iron particles surrounding a magnetic cuboid, a symbol of the Kaaba, which becomes the center of attraction to the small particles. “I create most of my artwork based on attraction,” he added.

The viewer’s eye is drawn toward the contrast and simplicity of the color palette, with the black elements set on white canvas and all the specs attracting simultaneously to the center. The exhibit is surrounded by four glass screens, signifying the holiness and sanctity of the performance of Hajj that should not be disturbed by outsiders.

His work also plays with the idea of repulsion.

In an essay, British writer Tim Mackintosh-Smith, said: “The Kaaba is magnet and centrifuge: going away, going back home, is the last rite of pilgrimage.”

Mater said: “I think it’s very important after the coronavirus pandemic that things come back to life. I spent more than four to five years attending Hajj as a photographer and researcher, and really, it’s one of the most beautiful scenes when you hear all of the people with one sound. And you feel it. It really cannot be described by words.”

While entrance to the city of Makkah and the Hajj performance itself is reserved strictly for those of Islamic faith, Mater caters to the curiosity of outsiders within the context of community and urbanism.

In his 2017 to 2018 exhibition, “Ahmed Mater: Makkah Journeys,” staged at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, he presented a series of multimedia artworks centering on working conditions, construction, and urban redevelopment that have characterized recent Hajj seasons.

“Sometimes it’s really about memory and about the way that our culture teaches about spirituality, imagination. Because we are a very spiritual culture, a very emotional culture, in our songs and our intimacy and families. So, I think that’s part of our life, and it’s created a lot,” he added.

In his work, “Leaves Fall in All Seasons,” a documentative on-ground video compilation, he focuses on the workers that contributed to the mass expansion of the metropolis. He noted that Makkah, as a city, had been nourished and built by Muslim immigrants and pilgrims of all backgrounds, bringing a lively and perplexing feel to the holy city.

“Everyone dreams about this Islamic world. It’s their dream to do it once in their life,” he said.

His care for the social well-being of individuals and communities, attributed to his background as a medical doctor, shows through his work as he provides audiences with a glimpse of what a journey to Makkah would be like for those unable to go.

“My opinion is that our work now represents our time now. Every time represents its moment. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s there were great artists. They represent their time, and they built this kind of beautiful history. We are now building our time and history,” Mater added.

The physician-turned-artist is a powerhouse in documenting untold stories, and he has played a leading role in establishing the Saudi art scene and legitimizing it locally and internationally.

In 2016, Mater became the first Saudi artist to hold a solo show in the US with his symbolic cities display at the Smithsonian museum’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.

While most artists leave their work open to audience interpretation, Mater said he hoped the research and perception behind his art reached the viewer in some way. “My artwork has personal context, it’s personal. It’s my life,” he said.

The more the visual artist has delved into Islamic collective identity, the more appealing his work has become to global audiences.

“​​I think globally but act locally. We are in our timeline now, and it represents Saudi Arabia now,” he added.


British pilgrim completes 6,500km walk from the UK to Saudi Arabia for Hajj

British pilgrim completes 6,500km walk from the UK to Saudi Arabia for Hajj
Updated 05 July 2022

British pilgrim completes 6,500km walk from the UK to Saudi Arabia for Hajj

British pilgrim completes 6,500km walk from the UK to Saudi Arabia for Hajj
  • British pilgrim walks across Europe to reach Makkah

JEDDAH: British pilgrim Adam Mohammed has fulfilled his dream of traveling to Makkah on foot to perform the Hajj.

The 52-year-old pilgrim walked through the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan to reach Saudi Arabia, covering a distance of almost 6,500 kilometers in 11 months and 26 days.

He walked an average of 17.8 km a day and reached Ayesha Mosque in Makkah on June 26.

He walked across Europe to complete his journey. (Supplied)

A huge crowd of pilgrims, local residents, and his two daughters who had flown from the UK welcomed him in the holy city.

Mohammed said: “I was so happy to finish my journey and I am overwhelmed by the great welcome, generosity, and love of Saudis and other nationalities. I am so eager to perform Hajj because Hajj has been my greatest dream.”

He spoke about what he would do when standing on Mount Arafat. 

“I will thank Allah for making this journey possible and for making my all-time goal come true to perform Hajj.  This was not an easy journey for me but I had to sacrifice everything for the sake of Allah and humanity.

“I have been preoccupied with reading the Holy Qur’an ever since restrictions were imposed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, I woke up one day and something inside me told me to go to Makkah all the way by foot from my home. I could not ignore this voice and decided to go for it.”

It took him just two months to prepare for the arduous journey with help from a British organization and donations from his fellow countrymen.

(Supplied)

Mohammed, who is Iraqi-Kurdish, began his journey on Aug. 1, 2021, from his home in Wolverhampton.

He had a cart weighing up to 250 kilos for his personal belongings. “Actually, I built it myself. It is where I ate, slept, and cooked for the journey.”

He told Arab News that, except for weather and traveling, he did not face any other challenge on his way to Makkah.

***

Now read: How his journey began

***

“There were no big difficulties, except for a few stops by police authorities in several countries to inquire about my presence in their land. But they were surprised when they came to know about my unique journey.”

Many people came forward to help him during this journey, with some pushing his trolley and others offering him food and a place to rest.

He documented and live-streamed his experience through his channels on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, while also using his platform to spread messages of peace and equality.

Even with 2.8 million likes on TikTok, Mohammed said his journey was not for fame but religion.  


Saudi authorities treat over 43K pilgrims before Hajj

Saudi authorities treat over 43K pilgrims before Hajj
Updated 05 July 2022

Saudi authorities treat over 43K pilgrims before Hajj

Saudi authorities treat over 43K pilgrims before Hajj
  • From open-heart surgeries to dialysis sessions, Saudi Arabia’s health ministry offers pilgrims hope for a healthier Hajj experience

RIYADH: Health authorities in Saudi Arabia have treated 43,425 pilgrims ahead of this year’s Hajj season, which begins on Wednesday, the Saudi Press Agency reported Monday.

The ministry figures, between May 31 and July 3, show pilgrims received five open-heart surgeries, 66 cardiac catheterization, 182 dialysis sessions, two endoscopic procedures, and 95 surgeries.

Over 290 pilgrims were admitted to hospitals and one woman gave birth.

Four cases of stroke were also identified through the use of the health ministry’s virtual hospital and more than 740 pilgrims had consultations with healthcare workers through the Sehhaty health app.

In Makkah, Madinah and the ritual locations for Hajj, Saudi authorities have readied 23 hospitals and 147 clinics with a combined capacity of 4,654 beds, including 1,080 ICU beds.

As the Hajj is taking place in one of the hottest months of the year in Saudi Arabia, there will also be 230 beds set aside for pilgrims suffering from heat exhaustion.

An army of 25,000 health practitioners are on hand to serve worshipers during the annual religious event.
 


Legitimate fatwas reconfirm Islam’s flexibility, scholars tell Grand Hajj Symposium

Islam-based fatwas played a significant role in facilitating religious matters and raising awareness about the Hajj. (Supplied)
Islam-based fatwas played a significant role in facilitating religious matters and raising awareness about the Hajj. (Supplied)
Updated 05 July 2022

Legitimate fatwas reconfirm Islam’s flexibility, scholars tell Grand Hajj Symposium

Islam-based fatwas played a significant role in facilitating religious matters and raising awareness about the Hajj. (Supplied)
  • Participants underscored the role of the religious fatwa in achieving the Islamic objectives of the Hajj when it came to contemporary issues

JEDDAH: Fatwas based on genuine Islamic principles reconfirm the religion’s flexibility, scholars told delegates on the second day of the 46th Grand Hajj Symposium.

The event was inaugurated on Sunday by Hajj and Umrah Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah and features ministers and eminent Muslim scholars from different countries.

Participants underscored the role of the religious fatwa in achieving the Islamic objectives of the Hajj when it came to contemporary issues. They also praised the Kingdom’s efforts in facilitating the Hajj.

During a session titled “Islamic Jurisprudence System and Contemporary Calamities,” the speakers said that Islam-based fatwas played a significant role in facilitating religious matters and raising awareness about the Hajj.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam touched on the importance of the Islamic jurisprudence system in adapting legal fatwas in facilitating Hajj rituals for Muslims, saying that flexibility in such situations confirmed that Islam was valid for every time and place.

Dr. Saad bin Nasser Al-Shithri, an adviser at the Royal Court and a member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars, said the Islamic jurisprudence system was capable of dealing with emerging challenges.

The secretary-general of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, Dr. Koutoub Sano, referred to the factual nature of Islamic Sharia and its ability to deal with new problems to help people understand it.

He highlighted the role of institutes and academies devoted to fatwas in qualifying specialists and investing in Sharia studies to extract rulings from the appropriate texts. He also praised Saudi efforts to deploy all its capabilities to provide security and safety for pilgrims.

In Monday’s second session, “Caring for the Pilgrim’s Journey,” Malaysia’s Minister of Religious Affairs Dr. Datuk Idris Ahmad reviewed his country’s efforts in providing services and promoting awareness among pilgrims, including medicines, vaccines, and personal health follow-up programs.

Ahmed said the services provided in cooperation with the Ministry of Health were meant to ensure their pilgrims were free from infectious diseases. He also praised the care and attention paid by the Saudi government to pilgrims over the decades and the remarkable development achieved by the Hajj and Umrah system.

Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Abdulfattah Mashat highlighted the Saudi ministries’ digital initiatives that contributed to the issue of more than 2 million e-visas through a portal that included all relevant authorities.

He also spoke about a luggage transport service that allowed pilgrims to focus on the duties of their rituals. He said pilgrims had received multilingual Hajj awareness guidelines before and after their arrival in the Kingdom.

Mashat added that the success of the Hajj and Umrah system was linked to a clear strategy derived from the Guests of God Service Program, one of the Saudi Vision 2030 programs, to enrich pilgrims’ Hajj experience and facilitate their spiritual journey.

“A pilgrim can electronically book all appointments and services, limiting negative practices such as stampeding. It can also ensure the flow of movement, smooth traffic, and easy grouping of pilgrims from one place to another.”

Dr. Ali Arbash, head of Turkish religious affairs, expressed his thanks to the Saudi government for its efforts in providing the appropriate pilgrimage environment in terms of hygiene and health to protect people.

Arbash also reviewed his country’s participation in the Green Hajj Initiative to raise awareness among pilgrims about reducing waste at the holy sites.

Saudi Assistant Minister of Health Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly underscored the efforts to provide the best health services to pilgrims.

He said these services, provided through the latest technology, were closely followed up by the Saudi leadership.

These services included 23 hospitals, 147 health centers, and 16 emergency centers on Jamarat Bridge. He added that more than 25,000 medical personnel were ready to provide all health services.

Dr. Hanan Balkhi, assistant director-general at the World Health Organization, described Saudi Arabia as an important strategic partner for the organization.

She praised the “bold decisions” taken by the Kingdom during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect pilgrims and limit the spread of coronavirus.

She said Saudi Arabia stood head and shoulders above all other countries due to its cumulative experience in crowd management.