RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s health ministry reported on Friday another 4,884 cases of COVID-19, as the omicron-fueled wave continues to surge.
The ministry also reported two deaths from the virus, bringing the total number of fatalities in the Kingdom to 8,916.
Despite the increased caseloads — 846 infections were reported on Jan. 1. — most omicron infections appear to be milder than some previous variants.
Authorities continue to urge the public to get vaccinated and heed health protocols.
Saudi Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said the country was currently going through a critical phase in tackling the spread of the virus.
He stressed the importance of people receiving the necessary vaccine doses and booster shots.
He also urged people to follow preventative measures such as wearing face masks, washing their hands, and maintaining social distance during the critical phase, with the ministry saying: “Our immunization is our life.”
The Kingdom has now recorded 643,211 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic, 590,140 have since recovered.
After nearly two years away from their schools due to the coronavirus pandemic, pupils in Saudi Arabia will be heading back to classrooms this Sunday.
They return to a number of changes, including new social distancing rules in class, and the cancellation of morning assembly.
The education ministry has assured parents that kindergarten and elementary students will return to a safe learning environment.
Students were to initially return in October but that was delayed.
Omicron has caused headaches for many governments across the globe as the highly transmissible variant has hampered attempts to move on from a virus that has played havoc with lives and economies worldwide.
The variant, discovered by South African scientists in November, appears more capable of escaping the body’s immune system, even for those who have been vaccinated or have been infected previously.
The Kingdom vs. COVID-19
How Saudi Arabia acted swiftly and coordinated a global response to fight the coronavirus, preventing a far worse crisis at home and around the world
Saudi authorities supervise readiness to ensure safe Hajj
A mock experiment in Makkah ensures staff readiness to deal with emergencies
Updated 02 July 2022
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s health and humanitarian authorities, Makkah Health Affairs and the Saudi Red Crescent Authority in Madinah, supervised inspections in the holy cities to assess readiness and preparations to ensure a safe Hajj.
Makkah Health Affairs participated in a mock experiment that consisted of a fire drill in one of the pilgrim residences in the city, to measure the degree of preparedness of the medical facilities and staff this Hajj season.
The experiment consisted of a fire resulting from a short circuit, which prompted smoke and flames outside the building and resulted in the removal of a number of residents, in addition to 34 casualties ranging from injuries to fatalities.
The cases were checked by the medical staff according to their designated zones, where they were positioned: Six cases in the red zone, eight cases in the yellow zone, 16 cases in the green zone and four cases in the black zone.
Hamad Al-Otaibi, spokesperson of Makkah Health Affairs, confirmed that this experiment was carried out with the participation of a number of medical and security authorities and departments.
The experiment also witnessed the participation of the executive administration of emergencies and disasters in Makkah Healthcare Cluster and the affiliated hospitals — Al-Noor Specialist Hospital, King Abdulaziz Hospital, King Faisal Hospital — and the ambulatory centers.
The director general of Makkah Health Affairs and chairman of the Hajj and Umrah executive committee, Wael bin Hamza Mutair, confirmed the readiness of the health sector in Makkah to deal with all medical, ambulatory and emergency cases inside and outside the holy places.
King Salman ordered state sectors to serve pilgrims during Hajj to the best of their ability during a recent Cabinet meeting.
“Serving Hajj and Umrah pilgrims has been at the forefront of the Kingdom’s priority since its establishment and still is. We are proud to continue this mission with the highest competency,” the King said.
Meanwhile, SRCA President Dr. Jalal bin Mohammed Al-Owaisi visited Madinah to check and inaugurate a number of ambulatory centers in the region.
The visit came as part of his tour to check preparations ahead of the pilgrimage, and to ensure the readiness of the various centers receiving pilgrims in Makkah and Madinah.
Al-Owaisi listened to a detailed presentation on the potential of the centers, and the most important preparations done by these centers to receive visitors to Madinah during the Hajj season.
DHAKA: Tens of thousands of Hajj pilgrims arriving at Bangladesh’s main international airport for flights to Saudi Arabia are being eased through the immigration process by officials from the Kingdom.
The meet and greet service being laid on at Shah Jalal International Airport in the capital Dhaka is aimed at offering help and advice to worshippers heading for Makkah, while streamlining documentation procedures.
Bangladesh is among five Muslim majority countries — including Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Morocco — where Saudi Arabia is operating its Makkah Route initiative.
The program, launched in 2019, is dedicated to Hajj pilgrims, allowing them to fulfill all visa, customs, and health requirements in one place, at the airport of origin, and save long hours of waiting before and upon reaching the Kingdom having had already gone through the process at home.
Bangladeshi pilgrims will perform the Hajj this year.
“It’s a new thing that opened a new horizon and our heartiest gratefulness to the Saudi authorities,” Dhaka Hajj office director Saiful Islam told Arab News earlier this week.
“Altogether, 60,000 pilgrims will be able to travel from Bangladesh.”
The number is half the quota Bangladesh received in 2019, the last Hajj season before the coronavirus pandemic, but so is the total of pilgrims who will arrive in the Kingdom this year.
The annual pilgrimage was restricted to only 1,000 people living in Saudi Arabia in 2020 and limited to 60,000 domestic participants in 2021.
As COVID-19 curbs have been lifted this year, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million foreign and domestic pilgrims, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million. Those departing from Dhaka airport are being taken care of by 50 Saudi officials working round the clock to facilitate their pre-immigration.
One of them, Mohammed Mozammel Huq, had been dreaming about Hajj since he saw his father embarking on the pilgrimage decades ago. “It was my lifelong dream to perform the Hajj. We are very happy with the Hajj management system,” he said, adding that his journey had so far been “very smooth.”
Businessman Yahia Helal said pilgrims seemed to be satisfied with how their departures had been managed.
“We have completed the immigration formalities in a very easy process,” he told Arab News. “Saudi immigration part is also done in a short span of time.”
Rokeya Khatun Lata, a homemaker, also noted the speed of the process.
“In Makkah Route initiative, it took me less than 30 minutes to complete the immigration process,” she said. “I am feeling very happy from the very outset of the journey.”
How Saudi academia and industry are closing ranks to drive hospitality innovation
Effat University has partnered with Kerten Hospitality to organize events and support local tourism businesses
Young Saudis encouraged to take on apprenticeships and internships in the burgeoning hospitality industry
Updated 02 July 2022
DUBAI: As part of their mission to diversify the national economy away from a reliance on oil, authorities in Saudi Arabia are actively encouraging a spirit of entrepreneurism among the youth of the country, particularly those interested in working in the Kingdom’s burgeoning tourism and hospitality sector.
To drive this agenda forward, academic institutions are teaming up with the private sector to organize events and activities that will help to incubate a start-up culture and develop homegrown industries.
One example of this partnership is a new collaboration between Saudi Arabia’s Effat University and Kerten Hospitality that aims to offer young people a chance to take part in mentoring sessions and hackathons, social coding events that bring computer programmers and other developers together to improve upon or build new software systems, while also providing support to students who want to start their own businesses.
“As a lifestyle, ESG, mixed-use operator, we are going to remain focused on our key areas — support for the local community and the young generation of hospitality players — and focus on locality in all its spheres, such as hiring and upskilling local talent, and driving innovation,” Marloes Knippenberg, CEO of Kerten Hospitality, told Arab News. ESG refers to the non-financial environmental, social and governance factors and goals that influence corporate decisions.
“In this regard, we aim to drive initiatives that will further empower entrepreneurship through the launch and introduction of new business opportunities for students to launch, manage, run and grow their businesses,” she added.
“Innovation plays a very big role in this drive as it will help reach the tourism aspirations for the country.”
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 agenda for social reform and economic diversification aims to expand investment in the leisure, hospitality and tourism industries, with the aim of attracting at least 100 million visitors to the Kingdom each year by the end of the decade.
Investment in the nation’s tourism industry is expected to exceed $1 trillion in the next 10 years. To help achieve this, authorities are working to create a favorable investment environment and to encourage local entrepreneurs to take the lead in developing these industries. Kerten Hospitality is offering to share its experience and expertise to help them succeed.
“We are at the start of an ecosystem that will become self-sustainable through a connected network of doers and achievers across multiple industries that work in the field of hospitality,” Knippenberg said.
“We are here to collaborate, adapt our know-how to the local landscape and work jointly with entities and organizations that are headed in the same direction, with the same speed and readiness to move and arrive at 2030 as accelerators of growth rather than laggards of development.”
She believes it is essential to invest time and resources in a younger generation that is motivated, brimming with fresh ideas, and has the most to gain from the long-term growth and prosperity of the Kingdom.
Indeed, according to a report published in April this year by regional digital marketing company Global Media Insight, it is estimated that 70 percent of the Saudi population is under the age of 30. As a result, this demographic is expected to become the engine driving the efforts to achieve the goals of Vision 2030.
“Hospitality sits across the whole tourism sector, and human capital upskilling and a focus on the youth will be of paramount importance,” Knippenberg said.
“This is where we plan to collaborate with Effat, in supporting this drive to get closer to achieving this mission.”
Such partnerships are necessary precisely because the hospitality sector in the Kingdom is in its formative stage. By working with Effat, Knippenberg hopes her company can help to provide young Saudis with the hands-on experience they need to hit the ground running.
“That is why we hope to motivate and stimulate young leaders and minds to contribute to the hospitality space with expertise acquired during their experiences with our global team,” she added.
* 70% Proportion of Saudi population estimated to be below age 30.
* 100m+ Target for visitors to KSA each year by the end of the decade.
Sarah Hassan, a 23-year-old graduate student at Effat University, is pursuing a career in logistics and supply-chain management within the hospitality industry.
“The hospitality field in Saudi Arabia is huge because of Makkah and Madinah, and Muslims around the world travel to visit Saudi Arabia, so it’s one of the most robust industries,” she told Arab News. “But now, with Vision 2030 and the country’s will to attract more tourists, it’s evolving.”
In Jeddah, where Hassan grew up, the hospitality industry already plays a significant role in the local economy.
“Jeddah Season just started and I’m seeing a lot of people visiting from around Saudi Arabia, (places) like Riyadh and Abha,” she said.
“The government is allocating all the resources to help facilitate the field. I am now applying for jobs and want to pursue a master’s degree in supply-chain management abroad so I can bring back that knowledge to Saudi Arabia.”
The collaboration between Effat University and Kerten will equip students with problem-solving skills and entrepreneurial know-how as part of an initiative spearheaded by Maria Bou Eid, the general manager of The House Hotel Jeddah City Yard. Young Saudis will also acquire new skills during internships and apprenticeships in Jeddah and it is hoped that their experiences will motivate them to pursue careers in the hospitality sector.
Haifa Jamal Al-Lail, the president of Effat University, said the partnership with Kerten will introduce students to a relatively new jobs market as the country experiences a wide-ranging economic transformation.
“The whole Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is going through different kinds of changes, from A to Z,” she told Arab News.
“In order to equip the students as valuable citizens, they really need to be engaged early on with the market to know exactly what the requirements are and how they can deal with it when they graduate. Hospitality is really the way to go for the Kingdom’s future.
“With all these things happening in art and culture, you will not be welcoming anybody without hospitality.”
A number of other universities in the Kingdom are establishing similar academic-industrial partnerships to help bridge experience gaps.
“It’s about making sure we have the market inside the university and vice versa,” Al-Lail said. “If this kind of reciprocal relationship is not done from the top management, then it will not cascade to the different levels of the institution.
“It helps the different departments and colleges a lot to seek the help of the community and work on it to really show the students what new jobs are available and what skills are needed.”
Al-Lail said she hopes that more companies from a variety of fields, including the tech sector, will form partnerships with higher education institutions in the Kingdom so that students can benefit from the guidance and experience they can provide, and perhaps even grants and scholarships.
“This will make a big difference in order to close the gap early on because they can really invest in the students while they’re studying but they will also have them ready immediately to join their industry after they graduate,” she said.
“That gives them sustainability to close the gap, while providing employment to our students.”
Saranghae KSA festival unites K-pop fans in Jeddah
The Consulate General of Korea in Jeddah delievered a one-of-kind Korean experience, offering to photograph fans wearing traditional Korean outfits, as well as providing cooking demonstrations
Updated 02 July 2022
Ameera Abid & Nada Jan
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia's first K-pop festival, Saranghae KSA 22, brought fans from a wide range of backgrounds together under the roof of the Jeddah Superdome for a three-day celebration of Korean music and culture.
K-pop installations, an Umbrella Boulevard and a Cherry Blossoms Avenue provided picture-perfect backgrounds for fans, who were also given a taste of Korean cuisine at stalls selling a range of Korean favorites.
One audience member, Ghazal Mazen, 16, said that she grew up listening to Korean songs because of her older sisters, and has been a fan of Ateez since early 2020.
“I really can’t describe how I feel now. It feels like a dream I have been waiting to live in real life,” she said.
High-quality screens ensured fans were able to see their favorite performers, while a screen suspended from the middle of the dome displayed images taken by audience members at the photo booth, as well as short clips of the bands.
The Consulate General of Korea in Jeddah delievered a one-of-kind Korean experience, offering to photograph fans wearing traditional Korean outfits, as well as providing cooking demonstrations.
Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean.
Both bands took a break to meet the audience and answer questions from fans.
On Wednesday, EPEX enjoyed the festive vibe of Jeddah Season by visiting the Historical Jeddah zone, walking through museums and the house of horror, playing games, and winning prizes.
Fans of Ateez spotted the band members shopping at the Red Sea Mall on the same day.
Saturday will mark the last day of the festival with Monsta X and Verivery.
Childhood memories of Hajj pilgrimages inspire Saudi filmmaker’s latest project
Mujtaba Saeed’s script draws parallels between Makkah and Berlin, and explores the contrasts between traditional values and the modern world
Updated 01 July 2022
RIYADH: Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed’s relationship with Makkah began at an early age. He fondly recalls family journeys to the vibrant city for Umrah or Hajj, surrounded by people of all ethnicities and nationalities who gathered at the holy place for one common purpose.
He paints a picture of childhood road trips across the multi-toned sand dunes of Saudi Arabia as buses passed by carrying strangers from all walks of life, all chanting the same prayer in a united voice.
Saeed remembers the journeys from his childhood home in the city of Saihat, in the Eastern Province, to the Hijaz region in the west of the country as being full of excitement and marvel.
“It was filled with adventure,” he told Arab News. “From a child’s perspective, it was a long trip that never ends. My relationship with Makkah was the idea of traveling to a place.”
The screenwriter and director is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with the holy city, which was a big part of his life until he moved to Germany as a young adult to continue his education.
“After that, I didn’t visit (Makkah) for a while but the memories remained,” he said. “I consider (the memories) things that open up questions related to time, connection and the act of travel … I think it’s similar to any Saudi’s relationship to Makkah.”
Mujtaba Saeed remembers the journeys from his childhood home in the city of Saihat, in the Eastern Province, to the Hijaz region in the west of the country as being full of excitement and marvel. Saeed, who now splits his time between residences in Berlin and Saudi Arabia, said these emotions and his experiences with the holy city are what inspired his latest script.
He added that the city is a focus for the many individuals and families who visit it as pilgrims throughout their lives.
“I think I grew up with these visuals and they’re filled with emotions; Makkah is a place filled with emotions for me,” he explained.
Saeed, who now splits his time between residences in Berlin and Saudi Arabia, said these emotions and his experiences with the holy city are what inspired his latest script. It is still a work in progress but he is determined to share its story not only with fellow Saudis but audiences around the world.
“It’s up to everyone to try to engage and integrate with different cultures,” he said. “I think what’s inside us as humans and what motivates us as people is all one.”
The script reflects Saeed’s own life as it revolves around two cities: Makkah and Berlin. Though there are many differences between them there are also similarities, not least a transient nature, with people constantly coming and going: Pilgrims in Makkah, and tourists and students in Berlin.
“These two places are directions (Qiblatan) for many people in the world, so I’m trying to search for the contrasts between the two and how that contrast affects the characters,” he said.
“For me, it’s also really important to see how this young city of Berlin opens up questions for anyone who visits it … questions that relate to our relationships with our bodies, and our connection to ourselves and others.”
Saeed said the search for answers to these questions by the characters in the story creates the conflict that is essential in any drama.
He added that his aim with the script is to explore the contrast between notions relating to the traditional values of “old society” and the modern, globalized world. More importantly, he said, it considers whether diverse groups of individuals, each with their own dynamic and colorful backgrounds, can coexist safely in one place.
“In Makkah, this equation exists,” said Saeed. “From the time I left to study in Germany and then worked there, there was care in a city that was also global. But still, there remains the important question: How can you amplify other voices there?”
He said he feels a responsibility as an artist to amplify voices that often go unheard. As the development of arts and entertainment in the Kingdom continues, as part of which the country aims to become a regional hub for cinema, filmmaking and broader forms of cultural exchange, he believes the growth of Saudi cinema offers an ideal opportunity to achieve that goal.
“At this stage of national renaissance, where we are giving a voice to Saudi cinema, we need, in addition to the work that the Saudi film commission does to develop regulated creations, to have an interest in more collaborative efforts, whether that’s with Europe, India, or other counties,” Saeed said.
“I think cinema will become our language — and it’s a universal language — in the coming years.
“The importance of the European Film Festival in Riyadh is something we can’t argue about and I think it’s important to focus on presenting diverse cinematic content.”
The inaugural EFF, which aimed to promote European cinema and encourage the building of contacts between filmmakers in Europe and Saudi Arabia, took place between June 15 and 22. Saeed believes it was important in terms of helping to bridge cultural gaps and encouraging ongoing communication.
“I don’t think the festival presented films that are new to this audience, because the Saudi audience greatly follows (cinema), but it’s important for European filmmakers to meet this audience,” he said.
Saeed’s other current projects include a screenplay titled “Gharaq,” which translates as “Drowning,” which in June won the Best Feature Film Script award at the 2022 Saudi Film Festival. Saeed said that it explores the duality of forgiveness and revenge, adding: “A person can’t be free unless he forgives.”
The film is prepping for production, with filming due to take place in the east of the Kingdom. He is hopeful it will be a Saudi-German co-production.
Saeed’s 2021 film “Zawal” won a Golden Palm award for Best Short Film at the Saudi Film Festival, and a Golden Sail award at the Gulf Radio and Television Festival, which took place in Bahrain between June 21 and 23. It tells the story of an 8-year-old boy who lives with his mother in a refugee camp under quarantine following the outbreak of a mystery pandemic.