Saudi Arabia backs UN’s coronavirus response plan with $100 million

20/09/20

During a virtual meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, announced the Kingdom’s donation of US$100 million to support the International Response Plan to coronavirus pandemic. (Twitter/@ksamissionun)
  • Kingdom’s donation will support UN’s International Response Plan to coronavirus pandemic
  • Guterres thanked Saudi Arabia for its generous and continuous support to UN

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said Friday it was donating $100 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) and toward a number of projects in support of a United Nations response plan to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement was made by the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, during a virtual event with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Saudi Press Agency reported.
“The International Response Plan to coronavirus pandemic, the WHO and other UN agencies will benefit from this Saudi donation,” Al-Mouallimi tweeted following the meeting.

Earlier, Al-Mouallimi said that “this support comes within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s international efforts in support of the response to combating the coronavirus, and awareness of the importance of cooperation, solidarity and collective and international action to foster a transparent, robust, coordinated and wide-ranging global response.”
He said the Kingdom was carrying out “the role it has been entrusted with toward multilateralism, collective and international action in order to confront the COVID-19 pandemic,” adding that Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries “to extend a hand of aid and coordination” with countries affected by the spread of the virus.
Al-Mouallimi said that the Kingdom is working to enable the UN to lead international action to intensify global efforts to combat coronavirus, and to enhance support for developing countries and the most vulnerable regions in fighting this pandemic.
In particular, he mentioned assisting refugees, raising the standards of living among the world’s poorest groups, developing fragile economies, mediating an end to conflicts, and building more harmonious relationships between nations.
Guterres thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the Kingdom’s generous and continuous support to the organization, saying that Saudi Arabia worked in partnership with the UN to support security, stability and prosperity in all parts of the world, especially in Yemen.

This article was first published in Arab News

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KSRelief sends plane loads of aid to Sudan amid floods and COVID-19 pandemic

Time: 15 September 2020

Flood water fills a ditch in the ancient royal city at the archaeological site of Meroe, in the Sudanese al-Bajrawia area in the River Nile State, 200Km north of the capital, on September 9, 2020. – The ancient complex of Meroe, capital of the powerful Meroitic Empire lasting from 350 BCE to 350 CE, extends over 1500 Km in the Nile valley. It is composed of the necropolis of Kushite royalty with its renowned pyramids, as well as the royal city which hosted palaces, temples and administration, and that was threatened by the severe flooding of the Nile river that induced a country-wide state of emergency. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)
  • KSRelief sends planes filled with aid to Sudan

RIYADH: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) has sent planes to Sudan filled with aid, including equipment to provide shelter, as well as medical and food supplies for affected regions and provinces hit by the recent flooding.

In addition, the Kingdom continued its support to Sudan to face the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by sending a plane carrying 105 tons of medical supplies.

Dr Afaf Al-Nahas, Director General of the National Fund for Medical Supplies in Sudan, praised the Kingdom’s initiatives and its enthusiasm to share the Sudanese society concerns, and participate in its programs.

In addition, she praised the efforts of Saudi Arabia and its continued support to Sudan and its people, assuring that the shipment of medicines offered by the Kingdom is currently the best support to the Sudanese Ministry of Health, in order to continue fighting the pandemic in the Capital and in various provinces.

Finally, she expressed her thanks to King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, deputy prime minister and defense minister, for their continuous efforts to help humanity around the globe, in line with the Kingdom’s tradition in helping humans with no exceptions.

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Saudi clinics carry out 2 million virus tests

Time: 13 August, 2020

Saudi Arabia announced 36 more deaths from COVID-19 and 1,569 new cases of the disease on Wednesday. (SPA)
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 257,269
  • A total of 3,269 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Takkad centers have launched a 24-hour testing service as part of an early detection campaign to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Tetamman clinics and Takkad (make sure) centers have carried out more than 2 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests across the Kingdom since the start of the pandemic.
Takkad centers are designated for those who have no symptoms or only mild symptoms, but who believe they might have come into contact with a person infected with COVID-19.
Commenting on Saudi Arabia’s participation in vaccine clinical trials, Ministry of Health spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said on Wednesday that the Kingdom is committed to joining the global effort to find a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Effectiveness and safey are priorities for clinical trials conducted in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “The Kingdom has been participating since the beginning of the pandemic to support all research departments and efforts in finding a cure and treatment.”
A total of 1,569 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the Kingdom on Wednesday, meaning 293,037 people in Saudi Arabia have now contracted the disease. There were 32,499 active cases, 1,826 of which were critical.
Al-Aly announced 2,151 new recoveries, taking the total number to 257,269, while 36 new fatalities were reported, raising the death toll to 3,269.
More than 4 million polymerase tests have been carried out in the Kingdom, including 67,676 in the past 24 hours.

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Saudi Arabia permits Eid Al-Adha prayers with coronavirus measures

Time: 14 July, 2020

The Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance said it has intensified its awareness and guidance campaign to adopt preventive protocols to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Prayers will only take place in certain mosques

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Monday it would permit worshippers to perform Eid Al-Adha prayers at mosques.
The Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance, Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh, directed the ministry’s branches in the regions throughout the Kingdom to provide for this year’s Eid Al-Adha prayers.
Prayers will only take place in certain mosques and ensuring they use the government’s preventative measures, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The ministry said it has intensified its awareness and guidance campaign to adopt preventive protocols to combat the spread of the coronavirus through the participation of a group of advocates and scholars, in addition to publishing what was recommended by the medical committees concerned with combating the epidemic.

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250 Saudi doctors volunteer for scheme offering free medical consultations

Time: 11 July, 2020

At least 250 Saudi doctors and health practitioners have signed up to an ambitious community volunteer program offering free medical consultations to patients throughout the Kingdom. (SPA)
  • Health Ministry records 2,220 critical COVID-19 cases, deaths toll reaches 2,151
  • The scheme’s health volunteers are hoping to provide 250,000 consultations by the end of the year

At least 250 Saudi doctors and health practitioners have signed up to an ambitious community volunteer program offering free medical consultations to patients throughout the Kingdom.

The We Are All Sanad initiative, supervised by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, aims to recruit more than 2,000 medics to offer expert advice and raise awareness on key health issues.
Covering around 30 specialties, the scheme’s health volunteers, 45 percent of whom have so far been women, are hoping to provide 250,000 consultations by the end of the year.
The project is being run in tandem with Saudi government efforts to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The head of the initiative, Dr. Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Hamali, said the volunteer advisers had already provided hundreds of free teleconsultations remotely through the Mawidy (my appointment) platform which had contributed toward achieving sustainable goals, such as improving community service, increasing access to health care, and raising health awareness.
The initiative, launched on March 1, has been designed to help overcome obstacles faced by patients in relation to access to health care.
“These challenges include geographic barriers, a lack of clarity in the appointments available to patients, the high costs of treatment in some private sector facilities, and fear of disease exposure when visiting hospitals and clinics.
“We Are All Sanad provides services to everyone, however, priority has been given to beneficiaries of charities, especially under the unprecedented current conditions and the coronavirus pandemic, which threatens the health and safety of the world,” said Al-Hamali, adding that the program supported more than 15 associations.
The Mawidy app, available in Arabic, English, and sign language, offers telemedicine and appointment booking services, and users will soon be able to make home health care reservations as part of a raft of upcoming additional services.

FASTFACTS

The total number of coronavirus cases in KSA reached 226,486.

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom reached 163,026.

The number of active cases in Saudi Arabia stood at 61,309.

The total number of PCR tests in the Kingdom reached 2,179,448.

Deputy head of the initiative, Dr. Sultan bin Faisal, praised the ministry for its support for health charity staff and beneficiaries through the provision of telemedicine consultations, educational lectures, and scientific seminars.
He said volunteers wishing to join the initiative could register through the Mawidy platform, provided they had a valid license from the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties, adding that the scheme offered a unique opportunity for health practitioners to exchange experiences.
Faisal pointed out that the team included 30 young volunteers who would receive skills development training through the Ibtikar program, which offered scientific and practical training courses.
Meanwhile, the Kingdom on Friday recorded 51 new COVID-19-related deaths, raising the total to 2,151.
There were 3,159 new cases reported in Saudi Arabia, meaning 226,486 people had now contracted the disease. There were 61,309 active cases, with 2,220 patients in critical condition.
According to the Ministry of Health, 296 of the newly recorded cases were in Riyadh, while 249 were reported in Al-Hofuf, and 209 in Jeddah. In addition, 1,930 more patients had recovered from COVID-19, taking the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 163,026.
Saudi Arabia has so far conducted 2,179,448 tests for COVID-19.
As part of the Kingdom’s strategy to tackle the virus outbreak, several services and products have been rolled out throughout the country.
These have included Takkad (make sure) centers which have conducted more than 480,000 lab tests, 239 Tetamman clinics which have dealt with at least 265,000 patients, the provision of an extra 2,500 intensive care unit beds, the building of four field hospitals, the carrying out of at least 2.1 million lab tests, and the conducting of 3.7 million medical consultations through the ministry’s 937 service center.
Earlier, Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said that we are currently going through a phase of stability and control of the COVID-19 curve in the Kingdom. “This is due to the successful measures taken by authorities, and public awareness, and we should maintain this level of commitment.”
The ministry urges those who have come in contact with an infected person to immediately isolate themselves and call them at 937. They should also stay away from others and self-isolate at home.

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INTERVIEW: Abeer Al-Fouti sees Alwaleed delivering global response to COVID-19 pandemic

11/07/20

Abeer Al-Fouti runs the global side of Alwaleed Philanthropies and is convinced that only a global approach will work in the face of COVID-19, the biggest health challenge for nearly a century. (Illustration: Luis Grañena)

Abeer Al-Fouti explains how the philanthropic world has come together in the COVID-19 era
DUBAI: Charity begins at home, they say, but in the era of the world pandemic such a domestic-focused approach is neither desirable nor effective.

That is why several global philanthropic organisations, and big name donors, have come to the fore in the course of the COVID-19 crisis to offer financial, practical and logistics support to those people in the world whose governments do not have the means to extend assistance to their entire population.

Perhaps the best known is Bill Gates, the American entrepreneur who has pledged to give away his entire multi-billion dollar fortune to beat the virus. Other eminent entrepreneurs have also given billions in the attempt to find an elusive vaccine or effective treatment.

But Saudi Arabia has its own famous philanthropist in the shape of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the Kingdom Holding magnate, who has for many years been dispensing charity via his organization Alwaleed Philanthropies.

Abeer Al-Fouti runs the global side of that enterprise and is convinced that only a global approach will work in the face of the biggest health challenge for nearly a century.

“The simple message is that actually COVID-19, despite all the challenges, whether economic, or emotional or health or luck, has one important lesson that we have all learned, or should learn: That we are one world, we are one.

“If you think selfishly, it is going to come back and haunt you anyway. So this is the time when we all need to come together and think we are one. Otherwise, we are all going to go down together,” she told Arab News.

As one of the ambitious young women coming to prominence as part of the Vision 2030 strategy of female empowerment, she obviously takes great pride in her work.

“This year we’re celebrating 40 years of our existence. If I can summarize it in numbers, we’ve been working for four decades in six continents, serving 200 countries with 355 global partners. We’ve finished 1,000 projects and spent over $4 billion, and we reached one billion beneficiaries across the world. That’s our latest update. And it’s all run by 10 Saudi females from Riyadh,” she said.

Alwaleed Philanthropies plays a major role in charitable giving within the Kingdom, supporting organizations and individuals across the spectrum of community development, health, education and empowerment. But Al-Fouti’s responsibilities are more global.

“I believe philanthropy pays a major role in filling the gap, with a regional platform bringing the government and private sector together, and focusing on those who maybe the system does not serve or does not cover. This is why His Royal Highness called us together, to do our research and then to explain who we think we should support,” she said.

“We decided to focus on those that were most vulnerable in the Arab world, in the Middle East and Africa,” she said.

Fighting the pandemic has been the main focus for the organization since the virus broke on the world earlier this year. In April, Alwaleed Philanthropies gave an extra $20 million to provide medical and economic help to poorer countries during the pandemic, bringing its total COVID-19 support to $30 million, on top of its usual budget.

“In these times of unprecedented crisis it is more important now than ever that we pull our resources together in the battle against COVID-19. With many developed nations struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, we must spare a thought for the developing countries of Africa and the less fortunate countries in the Middle East,” Prince Alwaleed said then.

“I’m sure you know it’s in the DNA of our culture and our religion — giving and charity. Everyone is required to give as part of the culture,’ Al-Fouti added. Alwaleed’s work runs alongside an equally generous program of charitable initiatives funded by the government of Saudi Arabia for projects both within the Kingdom itself and the rest of the world.

Maintaining the international partnerships that have been cultivated over the decades is a vital part of her work. The Gates Foundation, Gavi, the vaccination organisation, the World Health Organization and the United Nations are important allies in the global sphere.

“We have criteria for selection, and mainly we want to work with partners that are credible and share common values, and those which have long-term impact, in addition to other criteria. We have a detailed list of criteria and we tick those which have compatibility, reliability and credibility. We have to ensure that the money we give will reach those in need,” she said.

Another important ally is the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, ISESCO, which has partnered with Alwaleed on many regional projects.

“We support initiatives in 200 countries, regardless of gender, race or religion — as long as they have shared values,” she explained.

——-

BIO

Born: Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health and hospital administration, King Saud University

Career: Various roles in government and private sector in human development, management and public relations

– CEO Al-Khair

– Partner, RVCC property development

– Co-founder, Smile Productions

– Executive manager, Global initiatives, Alwaleed Philanthropies

——-

Those initiatives fall into four main categories. Community development involves work on essential infrastructure — housing projects, employment initiatives and educational opportunities to help achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Second comes empowerment initiatives for women and young people. In partnership with international institutions such as the UN, Alwaleed works to enhance opportunities for underprivileged women across the Middle East and Africa and to advance the interests of the big youthful demographic in the region. “We want people to become self-sufficient and empowered, Al-Fouti said.

For example, Alwaleed was a leading partner in the Turquoise Mountain project in Afghanistan, which sought to revive traditional craft industries in the war-ravaged country, providing employment for thousands of women and young people and helping to restore traditional buildings for use as medical and educational facilities.

Next comes disaster relief, again often in conjunction with UN organizations. Alwaleed played an active role in helping Albania to recover from the recent earthquake there, for example.

Finally, there is what Al-Fouti regards as her “favourite” work — the initiatives to “bridge cultures” through educational and cultural activities in several countries. Alwaleed is involved in projects in the Louvre in Paris and with Berlin Museum to explain Islamic culture to Europeans.

“We believe the best way for people to understand each other is through art and culture. We’re planning to work this year with all our educational centres, and with the Louvre and Berlin, to see how we can revisit this strategy and see how we can have more impactful projects in terms of bringing people together,” she said.

——

READ MORE: Alwaleed Philanthropies, ICESCO MoU to help 10 African countries

Prince Alwaleed pledges $30m to fight pandemic

How Louvre-Saudi Islamic cultural ties are promoting peace and tolerance

——

But the reaction to the pandemic has understandably taken up a lot of the organization’s time this year.

“We decide to get in and minimize or control the spread of the virus by strengthening local capabilities, for example through or work with ISESCO. In Africa they asked us to provide them with masks and with alcohol cleaning products. We decided that we were also going to go in and create or scale up factories, get jobs going and make the initiative available and sustainable, and this is what we are doing,” Al-Fouti said.

Through the collaboration with Gavi, Alwaleed has been able to bring medical relief to remote areas in the region. One of the repercussions of the pandemic has been that other essential medical projects, such as polio vaccination or routine immunization for children, have been scaled back drastically, partly because of travel restrictions but also because of the pressure on funds.

“In some places when people were being asked to stay at home, some didn’t have a home to go to. They were asked to wash their hands and they didn’t have water. That’s why we invested in areas where we thought there is a gap,” Al-Fouti explained.

So, those 10 women in Riyadh have the support and back-up of hundreds of partners around the world, with a global perspective in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

“We have partners and embedded collaborative relationships that we consider to be an extension of our team. So we are not alone. There is a saying ‘work smart, not hard.’ But we work hard as well. In fact, we really do work hard,” she said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia spends more than $57 billion on coronavirus stimulus

09/07/20

People working for affected businesses also benefited from the initiatives. (AFP)

  • SAMA announced a SR50 billion package to support the private sector on March 14.

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia spent more than SR214 billion ($57 billion) on 142 initiatives to tackle the impact of the coronavirus in the Kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Initial measures undertaken by the government to provide a buffer were followed up by a royal decree this month to extend the support to the public and private sectors and to investors.

They included the suspension of some labor-related fines, wage protection measures and the postponement of the collection of customs duties on imports.

More than 650,000 people directly benefited from the package of measures aimed at individuals, according to the Ministry of Finance’s Communications and Financial Knowledge Center.

Businesses also received help in the form of extra time to file tax and zakat returns, while families on low incomes were given support in sectors that were hard hit such as ride-hailing transport services. About SR9 billion was allocated to more than 1.2 million citizens working for businesses affected by the pandemic.

In its Policy Responses to COVID-19 Tracker, the International Monetary Fund notes that Saudi Arabia has been hit by two shocks — “the spread of COVID-19 and the sharp decline in oil prices. Government policy is responding to both these developments.”

The Kingdom also implemented a number of fiscal measures with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) reducing its policy rates twice in March. SAMA announced a SR50 billion package to support the private sector on March 14, aimed particularly at SME’s by boosting banking sector liquidity.

The regulator instructed banks to delay repayment of loans for all Saudi employees by three months without extra fees and to provide finance to customers who lost their jobs.

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Saudi Arabia conducts 60k PCR tests daily in fight against COVID-19

08/07/20

So far, over 2 million PCR tests have been conducted in the Kingdom. (AFP)

  • The death toll in the Kingdom stands at 2,017, with 49 new fatalities

JEDDAH: Saudi health authorities are conducting 60,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests daily in a bid to check the spread of COVID-19, Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
So far, over 2 million PCR tests have been conducted in the Kingdom, indicating the efficiency of its health-care system, he added.
Jalal Al-Owais, supervisor general of the ministry’s Emergency, Disasters and Ambulatory Transportation General Department, said: “One of the directives given by our leadership was to increase the number of hospital beds in critical care units. In only three months, capacity has risen by 30 percent. This shows the Kingdom’s great care and attention to its people’s health and safety.” Timely action helped health facilities cope with the number of patients effectively, he added.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia recorded 3,392 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 217,108. A total of 60,252 cases are active, of which 2,268 are in critical condition.
With 5,205 new recoveries, the total number of people having recovered from COVID-19 has reached 154, 839. The death toll in the Kingdom stands at 2,017, with 49 new fatalities.

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Young Saudis ‘have learned a great deal’ amid pandemic: Expert

08/07/20

Saudi youth make up 60 percent of the population. (AN photo by Essam Al Ghalib)

Modern internet infrastructure, accessibility in Kingdom ensured smooth running of online education.

LONDON: Despite its short-term challenges, the learning experience from the coronavirus pandemic may prove to be an advantage for young Saudis in the medium to long term, an expert has argued.

The pandemic, and the changes it has caused to education, employment and general wellbeing, have been major challenges for young people all over the world, including in Saudi Arabia.

But Mark Thompson, head of the Socioeconomic Unit at the King Faisal Center for Research & Islamic Studies, believes that there could be a silver lining to the disruption it has caused: A more strategically minded young population.
Speaking on Tuesday at an online seminar attended by Arab News, Thompson said Saudi youth, which make up 60 percent of the population, adapted quickly to the massive changes to their education that accompanied virus-control measures.
Saudi Arabia suspended all schools, universities and educational institutions on March 9 to contain the spread of coronavirus, delivering education entirely online.
Thanks to the Kingdom’s 90 percent internet penetration rate and the wide availability of internet-ready devices, Thompson said, the country successfully navigated “the switch to online learning” and managed to ensure “the continuation of learning through digital methods.”
One standout triumph from this period was the smooth delivery of university exams by the Ministry of Education, which conducted over 220,000 tests entirely online.
But more than just changing their method of learning, the disruptions have been a chance for many young people in the Kingdom to reflect on their own futures.
“This has also changed attitudes to specialization, toward programs such as business degrees, which are more suited to virtual classrooms,” Thompson said.
“The pandemic has altered young Saudis’ idea of education. It has compelled many young people to become more self-taught,” he added.
“They’ve learned a great deal from this experience. They can now develop clearer visions for their future careers, as well as the institutions they want to join.
“If the pandemic helps foster critical and strategic thinking in a lot of young Saudis, in the medium to long term we can consider this an indirect benefit.”
The pandemic has caused major disruption to children’s and young adults’ education worldwide.
UNESCO estimates that up to 60 percent of students globally have been impacted by school closures, amounting to over 1 billion affected learners.

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How coronavirus crisis has changed business in the Middle East

27/06/20

Passengers watch a movie from their car at a drive-in cinema outside the Mall of Emirates in Dubai on May 17, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP/File Photo)
  • COVID-19 containment efforts, economic slowdown and low oil prices amounted to a perfect storm
  • Some Middle East and North Africa enterprises have reacted quickly and creatively to the challenges

CAIRO: While countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have responded unevenly to the coronavirus pandemic, a majority imposed aggressive temporary lockdowns on businesses and people’s movement.

Containment efforts, paired with a global economic slowdown, supply chain disruptions and a drop in crude oil prices, have had grave implications for regional enterprises.

In anticipation of prolonged pain, some MENA businesses have reacted quickly and creatively to this economic turmoil. Here is a look at some of the innovations that swiftly took hold.

* Fine dining delivered to your home

Luxury dining is perhaps the hardest-hit segment of the food and beverage industry. Operators were quick to switch to delivery and takeout.

“High-end fine dining restaurants such as Coya (and) Zuma, amongst others, have pivoted in this way, and it’s inspiring to see restaurants quickly move to a completely new business model,” said Ryan Andrews, marketing director of Eat App, a Bahraini startup providing an electronic system for restaurant reservations.

Chatfood, a platform offering a commission-free direct-to-consumer delivery option for restaurants, witnessed a surge in new clients from the region, said co-founder Ben Mouflard.

(Image: EAT App)

* The rise of e-commerce

E-commerce in the region has been growing at a cumulative rate of 25 percent since 2014, and online-only retailers have long captured more than 90 percent of this market.

To mitigate the deleterious effects of the lockdown on luxury retailers relying on in-store sales, Dubai Mall launched Noon.com, enabling them to sell and deliver products through the virtual store.

Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZA) is accelerating its efforts to launch Dubai Commercity, a 2.1 million sq. feet haven for e-commerce businesses with spaces for offices and logistics.

“Given the traction witnessed by clients (going) online due to the pandemic, we are on track for the scheduled opening by the end of 2020,” said Mohammed Al-Zarooni, DAFZA director-general.

* Mobile banking and e-wallets

A surge in the use of mobile banking and e-wallets has been observed across the region. Starting in March, Egyptian banks — including National Bank of Egypt, Banque Misr and BLOM Bank — have increased their electronic service capabilities.

National Bank of Oman encouraged users to make contactless payments. Fintech startups have been capitalizing on this trend with the launch of new services, among them PayBy’s mobile payment app in the UAE.

“The future of banking is not digital. The future of banking is customer experience, and digital is a tool enabling customer experience,” said Ali Khan, financial services director of PwC Middle East.

(Photo: AFP)

* Virtual music concerts

No-crowd live-streamed music concerts have become hugely popular, with a tipping point reached over the Eid Al-Fitr holiday.

The Egyptian Culture Ministry’s YouTube channel started live-streaming music concerts in March. By the end of May, it had added more than 1 million new subscribers.

Supported by major production companies, several popstars from the region, including Egyptian Tamer Hosny and Saudi Mohamed Abdo, performed to an online audience.

(Photo: AFP)

* The shift toward gift cards

Entertainment businesses had to innovate to keep the cash flowing as many countries enforced curfews.

With the entertainment market shut down, companies have been promoting gift cards to stay afloat.

Vouchers and gift cards for cinemas and restaurants offer customers future discounts once restrictions are lifted.

“We’ve helped restaurants market their vouchers” via a dedicated marketplace, said Andrews of Eat App.

* Telemedicine gets a real-life test

Based on a recent report by Research and Markets, the digital health care market in Saudi Arabia will grow by 8.8 percent in 2020 to $16.1 billion.

This growth is fueled by hospitals’ rapid adoption of telehealth services to cater to non-urgent medical needs while people’s movement is restricted.

As part of its response to COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has required that health insurance companies cover the costs of telehealth consultations.

* Virtual guided tours

Tourism was the first sector impacted by the pandemic, and is expected to be the last to recover.

Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Ministry launched online virtual 3D tours of ancient tombs and monasteries.

The Contemporary Art Platform in Kuwait and the Akkasah Center for Photography in Abu Dhabi are among the region’s art galleries currently offering online tours of their collection.

* Drive-in cinemas are back

Drive-in cinemas are coming back to help film lovers in the region get their entertainment fix without breaking social distancing rules.

Dubai welcomed its latest drive-in cinema in May on the rooftop of Mall of the Emirates, with a capacity of 75 cars.

It was followed by one at Dubai Mall, and Cairo’s Mall of Arabia has also launched its own version.

(Photo: Courtesy of VOX Cinemas)
This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

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