Saudi Arabia played ‘critical role’ in global COVID-19 response

José Manuel Barroso, Gavi Board Chair. (Supplied)
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José Manuel Barroso, Gavi Board Chair. (Supplied)
Saudi Arabia played ‘critical role’ in global COVID-19 response
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José Manuel Barroso, Gavi Board Chair. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 April 2022

Saudi Arabia played ‘critical role’ in global COVID-19 response

José Manuel Barroso, Gavi Board Chair. (Supplied)
  • Saudi Arabia made crucial efforts to help close the global vaccine equity gap, says Gavi board chair

RIYADH: The chair of the board of vaccine group Gavi, José Manuel Barroso, said Saudi Arabia played a critical role in the global COVID-19 response, and made crucial efforts to help close the global vaccine equity gap.

COVAX, the global COVID-19 vaccine initiative, co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, alongside key delivery partner UNICEF, is raising urgent funds to support lower-income countries’ COVID-19 vaccination needs, and Barroso conducted a number of virtual meetings with senior Saudi officials to discuss it.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Barroso, who is also the former prime minister of Portugal and president of the European Commission, said: “I indeed had the pleasure of attending virtual meetings with key officials at the Ministry of Finance in Saudi Arabia and the leadership of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center to discuss COVAX’s ongoing fundraising effort. CEO of Gavi Dr. Seth Berkley spoke to officials at the Ministry of Health to discuss how Saudi Arabia’s support could contribute to our efforts to break COVID in 2022.

Decades before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia invested in its healthcare systems and focused on increasing the number of healthcare workers. This investment and preparation meant that when the pandemic hit, Saudi Arabia was better equipped than most countries to handle the virus.

José Manuel Barroso

“I also had a very positive virtual meeting with Dr. Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, where we agreed to work together on shared objectives for global good and solidarity,” he added.

“Saudi Arabia has played a critical role in the global COVID-19 response. In November 2020, as the chair of the G20 Summit in Riyadh, the country succeeded in mobilizing donors to commit sizable funding to respond internationally to the COVID-19 pandemic, amounting to over $825 million including vaccines, medical supplies and medical equipment for 33 countries.

“This money has helped protect millions of lives, but the pandemic will continue to evolve and we must be prepared.”

There is sufficient supply to meet countries’ COVID-19 vaccine demands, but seeing a new COVID variant emerging every four months, it is absolutely critical that the world avoid the scenario of 2020 when money had to be raised before doses could be secured, Barroso said.

“We have learned the importance of securing funding ahead of time, especially should variant-adapted vaccines be required or if additional annual booster shots are needed. To mitigate against this risk, COVAX is seeking to secure contingent funding of $2.7 billion so that we are ready to place orders for additional vaccines as soon as they are needed.

“This ability to move rapidly is essential not only from a vaccine equity standpoint, but it is also necessary from a health security standpoint. Our focus is also on helping countries protect as many people as possible, which is why we are seeking $1 billion for in-country delivery, to improve both the rollout and uptake of vaccines,” said Barroso.

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia, together with the rest of the GCC states, can also extend stronger support to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states.

“Of the 92 countries eligible to receive donor-funded vaccines through the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment, 37 are OIC member states and over 740 million, or over 60 percent of all COVAX vaccine doses, have been delivered to these nations. With Ramadan beginning, it is an opportune time to demonstrate solidarity with low and low-middle income countries,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia allocated $150 million to support the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment, $5.3 million was pledged by KSrelief, and we have also received $2.3 million from the Gamers Without Borders initiative of Saudi Esports. This support, pooled together with funding from other donor countries has enabled COVAX to deliver over 1.4 billion doses worldwide, protecting millions of lives across 144 countries, including 83 lower-income countries and territories.

“Efforts like this are helping to close the global vaccine equity gap, and there has been an increase in global vaccine coverage in recent months.”

However, the world urgently needs to make sure vaccines end up in arms at a faster rate, so as not to leave space for the virus to mutate, he added.

With additional support, he said, Gavi and COVAX can help countries remove barriers preventing vaccine uptake by providing technical assistance, funding for vaccinators and health workers and support to build delivery systems, as they have done over the last few months disbursing over $600 million of delivery funding.

On Saudi Arabia’s successful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Barroso said: “Decades before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia invested in its healthcare systems and focused on increasing the number of healthcare workers. This investment and preparation meant that when the pandemic hit, Saudi Arabia was better equipped than most countries to handle the virus.

“This is a great lesson for the world and demonstrates the importance of investing in our health systems and preparing for future pandemics and disease outbreaks. With over 62 million vaccine doses administered, and strong community awareness of COVID-19, Saudi Arabia’s response to the pandemic should be applauded.”

Adding that the pandemic is far from over, he noted: “We are living through the worst pandemic in a hundred years, and while the global vaccine equity gap has started to close, there are still ample differences in vaccine coverage between the poorest and the highest-income countries. There have been over 6 million official deaths from COVID-19 with the global economy shrinking by $12.5 trillion.

“This is not the time for the world to become complacent; we have seen a new variant emerge every four months. In fact, a sub-variant of the highly transmissible omicron version of coronavirus, known as BA.2, is now dominant worldwide, prompting surges in many countries in Europe and Asia,” he added.

Barroso said COVAX has built a global procurement, shipment and delivery system to improve vaccine equity and bring COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income countries, resulting in the delivery of over 1.4 billion doses to 144 countries.

Transparency has been a fundamental part of the process of COVAX management, he added, adding COVAX regularly updates and consults with key partners and governments, and holds targeted briefings.


Saudi Fashion Commission discusses sustainability with industry leaders

Saudi Fashion Commission discusses sustainability with industry leaders
Updated 15 min 33 sec ago

Saudi Fashion Commission discusses sustainability with industry leaders

Saudi Fashion Commission discusses sustainability with industry leaders
  • Commission announces launch of new center at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology focused on sustainability in textile science

RIYADH: The Saudi Fashion Commission hosted a virtual meeting on Thursday with experts and entrepreneurs to discuss sustainability in fashion.

The public was invited to attend the event, which examined the concept of sustainability and its role in the sector, as well as sustainability strategies and initiatives. 

During the meeting, the commission expressed its aim to support and stimulate the fashion community while also improving all stages of production involved in the industry, from design to product sustainability. 

It also said that it is working on several sustainability initiatives such as the second edition of its “GFX Swap Shop Riyadh” and the launch of a new center at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology to innovate sustainable solutions and technologies in textile science. 

The virtual meeting is part of a series of meetings organized by the commission to establish the best standards and practices to promote the Kingdom’s fashion sector.

 


Austrian Embassy in Riyadh hosts concert promoting cultural diplomacy 

Austrian Embassy in Riyadh hosts concert promoting cultural diplomacy 
Updated 59 min 31 sec ago

Austrian Embassy in Riyadh hosts concert promoting cultural diplomacy 

Austrian Embassy in Riyadh hosts concert promoting cultural diplomacy 
  • The concert featured performances by violinist Daniel Auner, his mother Irina Auner, who played the piano, and Ehab Abdin, who played the oud
  • The guest list comprised a diverse group of figures from music lovers to professionals in the cultural sectors of Saudi Arabia, from ambassadors to influencers

RIYADH: Austrian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Georg Postinger hosted the concert “Orient meets Occident,” blending Saudi and Austrian influences in a night of music and cultural celebration, on Sunday in Riyadh.

The concert featured performances by violinist Daniel Auner, his mother Irina Auner, who played the piano, and Ehab Abdin, who played the oud. 

“We are witnessing something that is a little bit of an attempt at something new,” Austrian Ambassador Georg Postinger told Arab News of the concert, which he described as a “merger” between East and West. 

The ambassador stressed the importance of holding events that promote cultural understanding and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Austria. 

“You can kind of describe it as cultural dialogue,” Postinger said.

The concert began with classical Austrian music, which was followed by traditional Arabic sounds with oud player Abdin.

The guest list comprised a diverse group of figures from music lovers to professionals in the cultural sectors of Saudi Arabia, from ambassadors to influencers.  

The Auner mother-son duo played music from Fritz Kreisler and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with each performance followed by an explanation of the history and inspiration behind the music.

Following the Austrian set, Abdin performed traditional Saudi oud music, playing Farid Al-Atrash’s “Albi wa Muftahu” and Salim Al-Masri’s “Lamma Bada Yatathana,” among other pieces. The performance was met with a standing ovation from the audience.

“It’s a very wonderful feeling performing here, especially with the beautiful response from the audience,” Abdin said. 

Postinger said that the Austrian Embassy aims to continuously host events that promote cultural exchange and cooperation.


Saudi Arabia sponsors $1bn economic reform in Yemen

Saudi Arabia sponsors $1bn economic reform in Yemen
Updated 28 November 2022

Saudi Arabia sponsors $1bn economic reform in Yemen

Saudi Arabia sponsors $1bn economic reform in Yemen
  • AMF program to improve transparency in banking, financial and private sectors
  • Saudi Arabia has been lead donor to Yemen since 2001

RIYADH: Under the sponsorship of Saudi Arabia, the Arab Monetary Fund has signed a $1 billion agreement with the Yemeni government to revitalize its flagging economy.

The deal, signed in Riyadh, seeks to establish a comprehensive economic, financial and monetary reform program to improve governance and transparency, expand and diversify production and lower unemployment and poverty.

Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan said that the program will develop Yemen’s financial and banking sector, strengthen the role of the private sector and promote long-term economic development. 

The reform priorities for the government include developing public resources, controlling and rationalizing government spending, improving efficiency, and rehabilitating critical infrastructure in electricity, water and transport services. 

Priorities for the financial and banking sectors include developing a supervision system to improve transparency and accountability and bolstering services for small and medium businesses and youths and women in rural areas. It will also seek to boost digitalization and payment method flexibility.

The program says the private sector is a primary driver of sustainable economic growth, and key in paving the way for greater integration into the global economy, the flow of foreign investment, and the strengthening of international partnerships. 

The Yemeni government expressed interest in exploring opportunities for regional and international institutions to collaborate to support Yemeni economic reform. 

The agreement’s sponsorship by Saudi Arabia is an extension of the country's economic support for Yemen. The Kingdom gave the Central Bank of Yemen $1 billion in 2012 and $2 billion in 2018 to cover the import of basic food commodities. 

From 2001 to 2022, Saudi Arabia has led the list of donor countries to Yemen, providing 30 percent of total support.

 


Saudi, Egyptian interior ministers hold talks in Riyadh

Saudi, Egyptian interior ministers hold talks in Riyadh
Updated 27 November 2022

Saudi, Egyptian interior ministers hold talks in Riyadh

Saudi, Egyptian interior ministers hold talks in Riyadh
  • Cooperation agreement signed to combat crime

RIYADH: Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Mahmoud Tawfiq in Riyadh on Sunday, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

They discussed ways to improve security cooperation between their ministries. The talks also saw the signing of a cooperation agreement to combat crime.

Saudi attendees included Deputy Interior Minister Dr. Nasser bin Abdul Aziz Al-Dawood, Interior Ministry Undersecretary Dr. Hisham bin Abdulrahman Al-Faleh, Interior Ministry Undersecretary for Security Affairs Mohammed bin Muhanna Al-Muhanna, and Public Security Director Mohammed Al-Bassami.

Egyptian attendees included Adel Al-Sayed Abdulaziz Jaafar, head of the National Security Agency, and officials from the Interior Ministry.

 


Sustainable development of Saudi island will boost economy

Darin and Tarout is among the most archaeologically significant islands in Eastern Province. (SPA)
Darin and Tarout is among the most archaeologically significant islands in Eastern Province. (SPA)
Updated 28 November 2022

Sustainable development of Saudi island will boost economy

Darin and Tarout is among the most archaeologically significant islands in Eastern Province. (SPA)
  • Dr. Saad Dahlawi: 'The Kingdom is witnessing unprecedented economic and developmental growth and following the standards of sustainable development'

RIYADH: Economists and environmentalists say sustainable investment is important for an island north of Dammam allocated billions of riyals for development.

Experts told Arab News that the SR2.64 billion ($703 million) granted to Darin and Tarout island by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last week has much potential to boost the Eastern Province’s economy.

Darin and Tarout is among the most archaeologically significant islands in the region, with evidence of 5,000 years of continuous human habitation and around a dozen heritage sites, including a fortress dating back hundreds of years.

Dr. Saad Dahlawi, Assistant Professor, Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (L) and
Fahad Almutlaq, CEO of Sharqia Development Authority.

Officials aim to improve the quality of life for its 120,000 people while preserving its cultural and historical heritage, revitalizing its natural beauty sites and enhancing its tourism economy.

As much as 48 percent of its 32 sq. km area will be dedicated to public parks, waterfronts, roads, and facilities. The island hopes to boost the number of tourists to 1.36 million by 2030 and generate thousands of jobs.

HIGHLIGHT

Officials aim to improve the quality of life for its 120,000 people while preserving its cultural and historical heritage, revitalizing its natural beauty sites and enhancing its tourism economy.

“This project represents the first strategic works and initiatives done by the Eastern Region Development Authority,” said Eastern Province Development Authority CEO Fahad Al-Mutlaq.

He said that work would start next year on a program to gradually improve social and economic conditions after comprehensive studies were completed.

Fadhel Al-Buainain, a member of the Shura Council, said that the island had historical importance.

Fadhel Al-Buainain, member of the Saudi Economists Association and member of the Shoura Council (L) and Abdullah Al-Khuzam, member of the National Program for the Development of Handicrafts.

“Developing Darin Castle and Darin Airport as heritage tourist destinations will enhance the cultural side,” he said. “The establishment of the largest forest on the banks of the Gulf will contribute to enhancing the environmental goals of the Kingdom.

“If eco-hotels are developed in natural areas, this will be an important base for eco-tourism, which will support the economy of the island.”

Al-Buainain, who is also a member of the Saudi Economists Association, said that the development plan would make an important economic contribution to the region.

“Providing small and medium investment and employment opportunities will have an important socio-economic impact,” he said, adding that the development would contribute to achieving the goals of Vision 2030.

Dr. Saad Dahlawi, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health at Imam Abd al-Rahman bin Faisal University, said he believed that the development announcement came at the perfect time.

“The Kingdom is witnessing unprecedented economic and developmental growth and following the standards of sustainable development,” he said.

Dahlawi added however that project leaders needed to assess impacts on the environment and especially on marine life to ensure that endangered species are not put at further risk.

“Such a study would provide decision-makers with a clear picture of how to implement the project sustainably,” he said.

Dahlawi said it was important to follow international environmental standards, as well as the standards and requirements of the National Center for Environmental Compliance, to avoid any damage to the environment.

Abdullah Al-Khuzam, a member of The National Handicraft Development Program, said the intention to turn Darin Airport into a heritage museum “means that a new prosperity period is being written on one of the oldest inhabited islands in the Arabian Gulf.”

He said that the museum and planned art festivals would help present “our ancient culture and civilization to the world.”