RIYADH: The Saudi health ministry has ended the need for key COVID-19 travel requirements for those entering the Kingdom.
Travelers arriving in Saudi Arabia no longer have to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. They also do not need to take a PCR test before departure for the Kingdom nor do they need to quarantine when they arrive.
The ministry announced the changes in a Twitter post on Monday evening.
The decision was made due to the decrease in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, now less than four percent. In addition, the vaccination rate in the Kingdom has reached 99 percent for those 12 years or older.
On March 5, Saudi Arabia lifted most preventive measures related to combating the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ministry of Interior removed the need for masking and social distancing in outdoor spaces.
However, masking is still required in mosques throughout the Kingdom, including at the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah.
“The Kingdom has almost overcome the pandemic completely, thanks to the expansion in the immunization drive and enhanced community awareness programs,” Al-Aly said.
On March 4, 2020, Saudi Arabia had decided to temporarily suspend Umrah for citizens and residents; for fear of the spread of COVID-19, the authorities had also decided to prevent pilgrims from visiting the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
In October 2020, Saudi Arabia resumed Umrah after about seven months of suspension due to the global pandemic.
Hand-woven Japanese silk fabric artisans turn attention to Saudi Arabia
Updated 12 August 2022
RIYADH: Kyoto-based Okamoto Orimono Co., Ltd. (branded as Nishijin Okamoto) has worked to provide rare silk fabrics since the Meiji era, and have carried on the techniques and traditions of Nishijin textiles for over 100 years, across four generations.
Nishijin Okamoto is one of the few remaining weaving companies carrying on the historic culture of Nishijin and Kyoto, and the company is offering innovative silk fabrics that will impress the wearer.
Ema Okamoto, textile designer and managing director of Nishijin Okamoto, spoke to Arab News Japan, saying, “I grew up as a child amid the sounds of the machines, the winding threads, and the bustle of the craftsmen in the house and workshop. This atmosphere of the Nishijin workshop is my origin and my life.”
“The people of Saudi Arabia, like us, cherish their roots and as they live their lives. I got a lot of inspi- ration from the regional symbols they showed us wherever we went,” Okamoto said, expressing interest in creating “a traditional collaboration between Saudi Arabia and Japan.”
Outgoing Danish ambassador reflects on his time in Saudi Arabia
Ole Emil Moesby is leaving the Kingdom after five years as his country’s envoy to the region
Updated 12 August 2022
RIYADH: Denmark’s ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Ole Emil Moesby, will bid the Kingdom farewell at the end of his tour of duty in Riyadh later this month.
“From the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you,” he told Arab News. “I’ve had a fantastic time here — you usually get more or less emotional when you have to change, but if you are a diplomat, you’re quite used to it changing from one place to the other.
“I can’t think of any time when I felt this — that I am leaving something behind here — which I will miss because the way I’ve been treated and inspired, and the way I’ve been communicating with people, has been extraordinary,” Moesby said.
“The experience I have had has been fantastic, so my message is: Thank you.”
Moesby has been the ambassador of Denmark to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Yemen since Sept. 5, 2017, and his final day of service is Aug. 31.
Talking to Arab News, Moesby highlighted some of his fondest memories in the Kingdom, where he has spent five years, from interacting with the local community and traveling, to being enriched by the culture and heritage of Saudi Arabia.
“It’s been a fantastic time to experience the development and the changes which I have seen in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“AlUla of course has developed extremely (well) … But even places like Yanbu or Jeddah have actually changed a lot. Not to mention, of course, Riyadh.
“It’s actually been interesting to see also how the development has changed attitudes and culture in these places, but yet, at the other side, have actually maintained the heritage of these places,” Moesby explained.
The ambassador witnessed many changes, including the opening of movie theaters in the Kingdom and the lifting of the ban on women driving in 2018.
“I think it’s been fantastic to see that development,” said the envoy. “I have been (here) in a period where I have been for premiers of films in the cinemas, and before … my staff here, which is mainly women, were actually being brought to the embassy in the morning — now they actually drive themselves,” he added.
“So instead of having a problem of traffic, as we had before, we now have a parking problem,” the ambassador joked.
“That’s a fantastic development, and which I will take with me in my memories when I leave.”
Moebsy explained that he has also been a dedicated Arab News reader, making sure to pick up the newspaper every morning to catch up on events.
“Everything has actually changed since Sept. 5, 2017. So every day, Arab News has actually told me what is happening here. And it’s been a fantastic experience because of the changes that you have seen here,” he said.
The ambassador highlighted the ways his mission has strengthened bilateral relations between Denmark and Saudi Arabia through embassy-led initiatives and collaborations.
“As an ambassador, you have to understand what is happening in Saudi Arabia, and you have to convey that to people in Denmark, and you have to make people in Saudi Arabia understand what the thinking is in Denmark. That’s the way to develop a bilateral relationship,” he said.
Most of his efforts have been to put into trade, developing business partnerships, and promoting cultural exchanges.
One of these efforts was hosting a women’s football tournament in Saudi Arabia with 28 teams from all over the Kingdom, called the Global Goals World Cup.
“We’ve been very active in setting up football for females. The tournament that we had was a big success … because it also demonstrated the role that females can play in sports events,” he said.
In February, the embassy hosted celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and the ambassador invited young female Saudi artists to paint a picture of the queen to mark the event.
“It’s an amazing development of cultural abilities and possibilities in Saudi Arabia that can happen. And for the queen in Denmark, she would see that as a good signal of the long-term good relations that we have between Saudi Arabia and Denmark,” Moesby said.
He concluded his interview by leaving a message to his successor, Liselotte Kjaersgaard Plesner, who will be the next ambassador.
“My successor, she is one of our top diplomats in the Danish service,” Moesby said.
“I just hope she can just be half as happy as I am in being here, (then) I will be more than happy.
“An important message to say to her is that the perceptions that we sometimes all are under in Europe or Denmark, and in the US, you can’t get close to the reality unless you have seen it yourself,” he said.
The ambassador added that people should not form their opinions of a country without examining it and being a part of the culture first.
“You have to come here. You have to live here. You have to understand and communicate with people here, otherwise, it won’t happen,” he said.
JEDDAH: The first Saudi to become a licensed hot air balloon pilot in the Kingdom is ready to give back to the community after his “blessed and lucky” three-year training experience.
Abdulrahman Saleh Al-Wohaibi’s certification on July 27 by the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation marked the completion of a goal that began in Australia in 2019.
He told Arab News that his dream of becoming a hot air balloon was sparked while completing his master’s degree in Australia three years ago.
“I remember that day in 2019. I was watching a group of hot air balloons drifting slowly across the sky. The beauty of seeing the balloons moving peacefully almost serenely on the horizon is what hooked me the most. I was so close that I could hear the sound of its dramatic flame gas burner as it filled the balloon with heated air,” Al-Wohaibi said.
Al-Wohaibi has always had a liking for high altitudes, and had completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering, as well as another bachelor’s degree in airworthiness management.
“I was very curious about the balloon experience, although I have been to many other adventure experiences, this one was the most beautiful; it was so peaceful,” he said.
Since that day in 2019, Al-Wohaibi was inspired to explore the culture and history of the hot air balloon and embark on his training journey.
“This is what I always wanted to do, and most importantly, it is what I want to share with my loved ones in the Kingdom,” he said.
Al-Wohaibi holds two private pilot licenses: One for fixed-wing aircraft, issued by the UK in 2015, and another issued by Australia in 2019.
In 2020, he was licensed to fly hot air balloons by the Australian Balloon Federation as well as the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
Completing his training and gaining registration “was indeed an honor and has allowed me to explore more and gain a new experience,” Al-Wohaibi said.
He passed the Australian test in his first attempt and finished training in just five weeks, breaking a record for the fastest training time in the country.
“Completing the course in such a tight timescale was a challenging achievement; normally trainees would take up to 12 months to complete the course. However, I am so thankful for all the family support, as the training site was a three-hour drive away, which placed some strain on my family and I was doing my master’s degree as well,” he said.
“I feel so blessed and lucky as I was taught how to fly with the Australian national champion Paul Gibbs in the high country of Australia’s Victoria state. Gibbs is a highly accomplished pilot, with numerous awards and qualifications in the ballooning field.”
Al-Wohaibi is certified to fly larger balloons carrying up to 36 passengers and is allowed to travel within fly-in airports, “Getting qualified is just the start — mastering flying, acquiring new skills, and transferring the knowledge and experience is the goal,” he said.
And Al-Wohaibi is now ready to give back to his country and community by introducing people in the Kingdom to the culture of hot air ballooning, so that they can see the natural beauty of Saudi Arabian landscapes in peace.
“I want to transfer the knowledge and experiences I gained to benefit those interested in this sport in the Kingdom,” he said.
Al-Wohaibi is also keen to train new pilots and start a tourism flight business, contributing to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
As the tourism sector surges inside Saudi Arabia, Al-Wohaibi had the chance earlier this year to fly during a hot air balloon show in AlUla.
The event was part of the AlUla Skies Festival, which brought more than 150 hot air balloon flights to the ancient site.
“I can see the drastic development of tourism and sports happening, and I think flying hot air balloons is a significant contribution for sure,” Al-Wohaibi said.
One of his main ambitions moving forward is to own a personal balloon, enabling flights through the “best locations” in the Kingdom and sharing the experience with friends and family.
“Having a good understanding of the weather, especially local weather and peculiarities, is crucial. Saudi Arabia features a very diverse meteorological environment, which in itself is a satisfying challenge,” Al-Wohaibi said.
“I will be launching from different cities around the Kingdom. I am also interested in being involved in as many international balloon events and competitions, nationally and internationally.”
The first hot air balloon experience was brought to Saudi Arabia in AlUla in 2019.
Saudi schools to undergo tech-based learning revolution, expert tells panel
Updated 11 August 2022
RIYADH: Extended reality technologies will soon revolutionize the educational environment in Saudi Arabia, NEOM Academy Managing Director Dr. Ali Al-Shammari has told a panel of leading tech experts.
Al-Shammari joined the panel to discuss the future of XR technology, which includes virtual reality, augmented reality and 360-degree video content.
As VR headsets and software become more accessible than ever, fields including education are adopting the technology around the world to enhance knowledge-building, Al-Shammari said.
Speaking to Arab News, Al-Shammari, also dean of e-learning and distance education at the University of Tabuk, said: “Medical science is actually the biggest field that includes some VR immersive learning environment technologies, including natural sciences like physics, chemistry, biology and biochemistry — and it keeps growing.”
Previously, the teacher-centered education system emphasized learning from a sole source while discrediting alternatives, he added.
“Right now, we focus more on students themselves, and how to provide them with the tools and resources in order to develop their skills, knowledge and values,” Al-Shammari said.
As technology begins to play a larger role in all facets of human life, Al-Shammari believes that it is an educator’s job to guide students on finding the appropriate communication methods to learn.
“In the past we used to have a one-size-fits-all model, where we put students all together regardless of the individual differences between them, because we want to have workers.
“We want to have students who can perform a certain list of tasks in a specific job. These days, students can learn on their own; they can learn from different resources … I am not going to say that technology will replace teachers, but I am saying technology will replace teachers who don’t know how to use technology,” he added.
“With personalized learning models, we focus more on the individual differences between students. We try to give them freedom to decide what they want to learn, and how they want to learn it,” Al-Shammari said, comparing new educational trends to past models of strict rote learning.
The prevalent public education system in most countries around the world is “seat-time based,” Al-Shammari said, meaning that students have to be in a classroom for a certain number of hours to be eligible to move forward to the next grade.
But the new personalized learning model taking off in the Kingdom focuses more on individual learning differences, such as interests, abilities, styles and personal beliefs.
And with the growth of that movement comes the introduction of cutting-edge technology: Immersive learning environments are constructed using XR technologies to create simulations that students can use to apply their knowledge.
“In an immersive learning environment, you are the actor. You perform the actions with this — you see the consequences of your actions, you get the immediate feedback and you write the story,” Al-Shammari said.
However, many parents are concerned over the use of technology in the classroom, and often compare it to recreational gaming.
But Al-Shammari said: “Sometimes it’s difficult to bring the reality to your classrooms. Think of the costs or the safety … If I want to teach you about, for example, snakes or explosive weapons, or something dangerous, I cannot bring that to the classroom. But I can put you in a situation where you can see all the environments around you.”
That also applies to the moral education of students. Instead of instructing students to react to a certain situation, you can, figuratively, be in someone else’s shoes and experience it personally through the use of XR technology.
“When I put you in an immersive learning environment and that environment is about homeless people, you will experience what it looks like to be a homeless guy — you will hear what people say about you … your value system will change,” Al-Shammari said.
As the newer philosophy of constructivism begins to play a prominent role in changing educational systems around the world, future technologies like the metaverse also have a role to play, Al-Shammari said.
“In the metaverse, I can learn based on my own speed, my own pace, the way I want and using the technology or the platform I prefer. It’s not like you have to learn that concept through VR, whether you like it or not…. I would say the metaverse is the next big thing in education,” he added.
And the rollout of these technologies could happen sooner than expected in the Kingdom. “I imagine that we will see K-12 in the next few months. I don’t wanna say years, but as I said, it’s growing very fast,” Al-Shammari said.
JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has announced that the Kingdom will now allow visitors holding tourist visas to perform Umrah.
Citizens of 49 countries will be able to do so by securing their visas online at Visit Saudi Arabia, or immediately on arrival at airports.
The decision has been taken to allow as many people as possible to perform the ritual.
Those who qualify include holders of visas to the US and the UK, as well as those who have Schengen visas.
The regulations allow visitors to obtain a tourist visa, valid for 12 months, to visit other cities in the Kingdom.
Those who have family visit visas are allowed to perform Umrah, by booking through the Eatmarna app.
To perform Umrah, visitors are required to obtain comprehensive health insurance, which includes covering the costs of COVID-19 treatment, accidents resulting in death or disability, and expenses arising from flight delays or cancellations.
Those wishing to perform Umrah from nations other than those who currently qualify, should apply for visas at the Kingdom’s embassies in their countries.
Documents required include proof of residence and employment, return ticket, bank statement proving financial stability, itinerary, and complete personal information.