By: Abdelrahman ELhadid
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has proven its capabilities to manage Coronavirus crises in all fields, as Coronavirus, that hit all counties in the world, embodied its ability to take precautionary and preventive measures to tackle spreading of COVID-19. KSA has started early by formulating policies at all fields (health, social, educational and economic policies) before the virus spread that showed KSA’s policy, its strength, and its ability to deal with the crises.
Saudi Arabia has taken firm decisions aimed at ensuring the safety of citizens, residents and foreigners alike. The most important of those executive decisions is preventing travel to countries where the pandemic is spreading, in addition to taking curfew measures. Saudi Arabia has temporarily halted the entry of pilgrims entering the country to visit holy sites, in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus and stopping tourist visas temporarily until COVID-19 pandemic is controlled globally(). Saudi Arabia has imposed a number of extreme measures on social movement, social gathering, religious gathering, travel, and businesses way before the first COVID-19 case in the country or before the number of cases reached 25,459 cases(), until writing this report (2th of May 2020).
The Saudi monarch, King Salman stressed in a televised speech that this difficult stage will not continue, saying: “We continue to work hard at this time to confront the Corona crisis. The difficult stage the world is going through will proceed”. He added “All government sectors, particularly the Ministry of Health, are doing all they can to take the necessary measures to preserve the health of citizens and residents”. He also affirmed, “The State’s keenness to provide the necessary medicines, food and living necessities for the citizen and the resident in the country” ().
In fact, Saudi Arabia has learned a lot from MERS epidemic which helped the country to have the best actions to public health and infection control policies and taking precautions measures to tackle such diseases. Furthermore, MERS epidemic educated the public how to deal with infectious diseases ().
In this report, I am going to present the inclusive strategy of KSA to deal with COVID-19 pandemic at all, health, economic, social and educational fields.
First: Health Policy
Ministry of Health announced the implementation of four precautionary measures to confront COVID-19. The first measure related to medical resources, as it prepared 25 hospitals to receive confirmed cases. Moreover it provided 80 thousand beds in all health sectors, 8 Thousands of intensive care beds, and 2,200 isolation beds. This procedure is also related to ports, where 6 thousand medical examinations were performed in the air and land ports. MOH applied quarantine to suspected cases, passport disclosure to all arrivals at international ports and health awareness at airplanes.
The second measure is related to monitoring and control, where the guidelines for COVID-19 was provided to health workers in all health organizations, as well as monitoring the epidemiological situation with the World Health Organization through the command and control center.
The third measure is to intensify visits by on field teams to ensure the preparedness of emergency departments to receive suspected cases. Furthermore, MOH updated its electronic monitoring system which ensures that reports of COVID-19 infection will be accessed immediately to rapid response teams for taking immediate response, the creation of a website for disease updates and all related information, and the availability of all medical supplies within the country.
The fourth measure related to diagnostic capabilities, in terms of identifying the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control as the only laboratory for examining cases to ensure quality of work, follow up all samples and cases in all regions of the country. The measure allows taking samples from the respiratory system of suspected cases after ensuring that they conform to the case definition according to the guideline. Ministry of Health set up a mechanism to transfer samples from all regions of the Kingdom to the national laboratory. Moreover, MOH is using a technique with high accuracy and sensitivity to diagnose the disease. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has helped these measures to limit COVID-19 spreading)(.
A lot of hotels have been designated as quarantines for arrivals from outside Saudi Arabia, and have placed them in these hotels for 14 days, which is the virus incubation period, with care and provision of all needs for the person().
Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Communications and Information Technology Agency, has broadcasted more than 2 billion awareness text message about COVID-19 addressed to various segments of society, including citizens and residents, in more than 24 languages.
These messages included tips and instructions for dealing with coronavirus and preventing its spread, fighting rumors about the virus, the importance of washing hands with soap and water, staying at home, avoiding crowds, and setting a distance of a meter and a half between you and those around you, in addition to Appointment application to detect symptoms of coronavirus.
This step is a continuation of the awareness campaign on the coronavirus, which was launched by Ministry of Health in conjunction with the outbreak of the virus, as the campaign aims to educate all members of society about COVID-19 and guide them with sound awareness behavior that contributes to prevent it and limit its spread ().
Second: Economic Policy
Saudi Arabia has taken a lot of decisions to reduce the negative effects of COVID-19 pandemic on the Saudi economy.
The Ministry of Finance, Mr. Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Jadaan, announced taking economic measures worth more than 120 billion riyals to decrease the negative effects of the outbreak of Coronavirus on economic activities. The Minister of Finance said that the government has taken a lot of precautionary measures to contribute to protecting citizens and residents in the Kingdom, and to provide the necessary financial requirements to implement preventive measures to deal with the consequences of COVID-19 and work to limit its spread, and ensure the continuity of the work of government agencies.
In addition, the Minister announced that the government has prepared urgent initiatives to support the private sector, especially small and medium enterprises and economic activities most affected by the virus. The financial stimulus package of these initiatives reaches more than SAR 70 Billion, which consists of exemptions and postponement of some government dues to provide liquidity to the private sector thereby enabling them to manage continuity of their economic activities. In addition, SAMA has announced a package of SAR 50 Billion, to support the banking sector, financial institutions and SMEs ().
These vital initiatives are as follows:
- Exemption from expat levy for those whose residency has expired from the virus spread until 30 June 2020, by extending their residency for a period of three months without charge.
- Enabling employers to refund the fees of issued work visas that were not used during the ban on entry and exit, even if they were stamped in the passport, or extend them for a period of three months without charge.
- Enabling employers to extend exit and re-entry visas that were not used during the ban on entry and exit from the Kingdom for a period of three months without charge.
- Enabling business owners, for a period of three months, to postpone the payment of value-added tax, excise tax, income tax, and the submission of Zakat declarations and the payment of obligations due therefrom. The decision allows also to grant zakat certificates without restrictions for the period of fiscal year 2019, and to accept installment requests to the General Authority of Zakat and Income Tax without applying the condition of advance payment. In addition, postponing the execution of services suspension procedures and financial seizure by the General Authority of Zakat and Income, and setting the necessary criteria to extend the postponement period for the most affected activities as needed.
- Postponing the collection of customs duties on imports for a period of thirty days against the submission of a bank guarantee, for the next three months and setting the necessary criteria for extending the postponement period for the most affected activities as needed.
- Postponing the payment of some government services fees and municipal fees due on private sector, for a period of three months, and setting the necessary criteria to extend the postponement period for the most affected activities as needed.
The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) issued several decisions aimed at preserving the stability of the economy and markets and mitigating the impact of COVID-19 pandemic. The Monetary Agency has presented a package of initiatives worth (50 billion riyals) in addition to issuing many fundamental decisions to support companies and institutions of the private sector and support the financing of small and medium enterprises, as the program consists of three basic elements, aiming to reduce the burden of fluctuations in cash flows and support the capital involved in this sector, to enable it to grow during the coming period, and to maintain continuity of employment are as follows():
- Deferred Payments Program Depositing an amount of (30) billion riyals for the benefit of banks and financing companies, in exchange for postponing them to collect their dues with small and medium enterprises for a period of six months from its date.
- Funding for Lending Program, depositing an amount of (13.2) billion riyals for soft financing for small and medium enterprises, by granting loans from banks and financing companies.
- Loan Guarantee Program: SAMA incurred “guarantee” fees issued by the Kafala program for an amount of (6) billion riyals for the benefit of banks and finance companies to exempt small and medium-sized institutions from the costs of loan financing guarantees (Kafala) in order to contribute to reducing the cost of lending to these facilities, and supporting the expansion of financing.
As I presented above, Saudi government has taken firm economic decisions to make its economic situation stable enough. Also, these decisions aim to support the private sector especially SMEs and entrepreneurs from collapse.
Third: Social Policy
Saudi government has taken many measures to control the critical situation. Those decisions are as follow ():
- Giving permissions to the Saudi citizens who are outside the country to return to their homeland in a certain period. Saudi authorities has imposed half a million Saudi riyals fine to its citizens coming from abroad, in case they hide any health information or previous travel destinations upon entering the country.
- Completing measures taken to combat COVID-19, the Saudi authorities took a decision of preventing smoking hookahs in cafes and restaurants in for a temporary period.
- Saudi government has cancelled concerts and postponed cultural, sports and entertainment activities.
The Saudi Minister of Finance and Economy, Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Jadaan, told in a press conference that “the unemployment insurance system has been modified to support the Social Insurance Organization to pay up to 60% of the salaries of affected private sector employees, in addition to coordination with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency in order not to deduct banks from financing and financing products that employees have taken from banks”.
According to Al-Jadaan, more than 14 billion riyals (about 3.7 billion dollars) is added to the Subsidies Providing Funds to support the private sector which is affected from COVID-19. In addition, King Salman issued orders to accelerate the payment of the dues of the private sector, where more than 200 billion riyals was paid to the sector (about 53 billion dollars) ().
Fourth: Educational Policy
On March 9, 2020, Saudi Arabia has announced that schools and universities in the kingdom are suspended in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The decision came one day after schools and universities were suspended in Qatif region over reported COVID-19 cases there. The Ministry of Education said virtual education programs would be activated to ensure students will not miss their studies ().
Since the decision to suspend Education on March 8, universities started the transformation of distance learning with the readiness of more than one million and 421 thousand lectures and discussion sessions. Attendance recorded to these lectures is up to more than 453 thousand students. March 13, the registrations of the virtual lectures held during that period amounted to approximately 2,765 virtual lectures, and the entry of 645 thousand students, and the number of visits to the educational resources of the Ministry of Education reached more than 5 million visits.
The National Center for e-learning via “Shams” platform provides open educational content that includes more than 370 thousand available educational resources that contain scientific materials, lessons, units, activities and videos, contributing to the continuity of the educational process for students in university education at various levels of education (Bachelor, Master and PhD).
Saudi universities have provided through their various platforms, including social media, various explanations of the way to use distance education systems, preceded by training courses for faculty members and employees to ensure the educational process is carried out appropriately and conveniently. The Saudi Electronic University has provided a lot of free virtual training courses for all members of the Teaching Staff at all universities ().
Fifth: International Cooperation to confront COVID-19
Recognizing the importance of global solidarity and cooperation in combatting this pandemic, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has called on all countries, non-governmental organizations, philanthropies, and the private sector to take part in the global efforts to close the required financing gap in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of that, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, April 16, 2020, as the holder of the G20 Presidency, has pledged US$500 million to relevant international organizations to support global efforts in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. This pledge will support emergency and preparedness response, developing and deploying new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, fulfilling unmet needs for international surveillance and coordination, and ensuring sufficient supplies of protective equipment for health workers.
Saudi Arabia will allocate US$150 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation (CEPI), US$150 million to The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), and US$200 million to other international and regional health organizations and programs().
On 23 March, Saudi Arabia helped airlift WHO medical equipment and supplies from WHO’s logistics hub in Dubai to Aden, Yemen. The shipment, which included personal protective items for health workers, laboratory screening tests, trauma medication and other medical supplies, was to be distributed to Sana’a and Aden to support readiness for COVID-19, as well as to the humanitarian response to the ongoing conflict().
On 9 March, Saudi Arabia delivered a shipment of medical equipment to Wuhan city in China. In response to an urgent WHO appeal, Saudi Arabia donated US$ 10 million to support all countries of the Region in their national COVID-19 response. An additional US$ 10 million will go to provide WHO Yemen with essential equipment and supplies for the national readiness and response plan ((.
States’ capabilities and the efficiency of its institutions and policies appear in times of crisis. Countries that have clear strategy and efficiently plan for the future are often more willing to deal with sudden crises because of their planning for the future. They take into account all scenarios and formulate proactive plans necessary to deal with each scenario of them. This is the essence of crisis management concept.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the first Arab countries to sense the seriousness of COVID-19 pandemic, and one of the first countries to take proactive and precautionary measures with a very high level of professionalism to prevent the virus spreading. Saudi Government limited COVID-19 pandemic spread at an early stage, as it dealt with it with good level of transparency and seriousness out of its concern for its citizens and their safety. These measures were well-planned from the Saudi authorities that were operating according to a shared strategy to combat the pandemic.
This strategy has primarily record of achievement at all fields (health, economic, social, educational fields). Saudi Arabia not only operated domestically, but also it did well with its international cooperation policy which aimed to help the other countries and the international institutions for supporting them confronting COVID-19 pandemic.
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