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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LIVE: Arab countries in global brotherhood amid coronavirus pandemic

13/06/20

Bosnian airport workers unload cargo from a Boeing 747-400 airplane owned by the United Arab Emirates government after it landed at Sarajevo International Airport, on May 27, 2020, carrying a donation of 20 tons of medical equipment and protective gear, donated to Bosnia and Herzegovina by the UAE’s prime minister to aid in fighting the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus. (File/AFP)
  • Saudi Arabia has sent medical supplies to Syrian refugees in Jordan
  • The UAE has dispatched 9 metric tons of medical aid and 10,000 testing kits to Costa Rica

DUBAI: Arab countries are lending a helping hand as far as the Caribbean to help countries deal with coronavirus outbreaks through the timely delivery of medical aid.

Saudi Arabia has sent medical supplies to Syrian refugees in Jordan to help them prevent further spread of the easily transmitted virus, state news agency SPA reported. A week earlier, clinics received over 6,437 patients who were assisted with the necessary medications provided by the Kingdom.

The UAE, meanwhile, has dispatched 9 metric tons of medical aid and 10,000 testing kits to Costa Rica to help the country in its fight against the coronavirus outbreak, state news agency WAM reported. The aid is said to assist about 9,000 medical professionals.

Saturday, June 13, 2020 (All times in GMT

https://twitter.com/arabnews/status/1271835158421831680/photo/1

15:30 – Pakistan’s well-loved former cricket captain and legendary all-rounder Shahid Afridi revealed he had tested positive for COVID-19 in a tweet on Saturday.

12:30 – Saudi Arabia announced 39 more deaths from the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and 3,366 new cases of the disease on Saturday.

11:52 – The UAE has confirmed 491 new coronavirus cases, 815 recoveries, bringing the total number of infected cases to 41,990 with 26,761 recoveries.

10:40 – India has reported another record daily spike in coronavirus infections as the country passes the grim milestone of 300,000 cases.

India’s coronavirus caseload jumped by about 100,000 cases in a week, which coincided with the reopening of shopping malls, houses of worship and restaurants. (AFP)

10:32 – Qatar has confirmed 1,828 new coronavirus cases, raising total to 78,416.

09:54 – Iran has recorded 71 coronavirus deaths and 2,410 new cases.

09:24 – Malaysia has reported 43 new coronavirus cases, 8,445 in total with one death.

09:00 – Oman has reported 1,006 new coronavirus cases, raising total to 22,077.

08:13 – A total of 834 people recovered from coronavirus in Kuwait, raising total recoveries to 25,882. The country has also recorded four coronavirus deaths and 514 new cases, raising total infections to 35,466 with 289 fatalities.

08:05 – Afghanistan has recorded five coronavirus fatalities and 556 new cases.

08:03 – Sudan has confirmed 149 new coronavirus cases, raisingthe total number of infections to 6,879.

08:02 – France said it will reopen its borders starting July 1 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

08:02 – Russia reported 8,706 new coronavirus cases, bringing its cumulative infection tally to 520,129.
The authorities said 114 people had died of the virus in the last 24 hours, raising the official national death toll to 6,829.

06:55 – Iraq’s Kurdistan has registered 112 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of cases to 2,005.

06:24 – Humanitarian workers and medical personnel believe the coronavirus is spreading unchecked and untracked through Sudan’s most marginalized territory. READ MORE

05:00 – The top US infectious disease official cautioned that the “blips” of rising coronavirus hospitalizations being reported by some states could get out of control if robust contact tracing regimes are not put in place. FOR THE STORY

04:39 – Australia’s largest state of New South Wales reported its first locally transmitted COVID-19 case since late May, a sign the threat from the pandemic is far from over as social distancing restrictions continue to be eased.

04:30 – China has mobilized its army and fast-tracked tests in the global race to find a coronavirus vaccine, but its labs also have an image tarnished by past health scandals to overcome. Six months after the first cases emerged in the city of Wuhan, China has moved quickly to develop a vaccine and is involved in several of the dozen or so international clinical trials currently under way.

04:22 – Brazil claimed the unenviable position of having the second-highest coronavirus death toll worldwide behind the United States, where several states have posted record daily case totals, signaling the crisis is far from over.

03:08 – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 348 to 186,022, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed. The reported death toll rose by 18 to 8,781 the tally showed.

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Saudi Arabia delivers third batch of aid to Yemen to confront COVID-19

Time: 07 June, 2020

KSRelief also distributed urgent sheltering materials in Al-Mahrah governorate, including tents, blankets and rugs. (SPA)
  • KSRelief also distributed urgent sheltering materials in Al-Mahrah governorate, including tents, blankets and rugs. (SPA)

SEIYUN: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) delivered the third batch of medical aid to the Yemeni Ministry of Health to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in various governorates of Yemen.
The center also delivered aid provided by the Chinese government to Yemen to combat the virus, in coordination with the forces of the Arab coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen.
KSRelief also distributed urgent sheltering materials in Al-Mahrah governorate, including tents, blankets and rugs. Yemeni officials thanked KSRelief for the rapid response to the families affected by the torrential rains in the region.
Meanwhile, the Saudi Program for Development and Reconstruction of Yemen, alongside of Yemeni government, took part in efforts to bring life back to normal in Aden, the provisional capital of the country, following torrential rains and destructive flash floods that disrupted roads, traffic, and cut off a power station in Al-Hasswa district. More than 38,00 beneficiaries have taken advantage of the program on the first day.

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Houthis reject Yemeni government offer to cooperate against COVID-19

Time: 03 June, 2020

Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik said the government had initially agreed to a UN proposal for both sides to cooperate. (File/AFP)
  • The Houthis have escalated the violence in the country despite a raging health crisis, the prime minister said

DUBAI: The Houthi militia has repeatedly dismissed the Yemeni government’s efforts for a coordinated response against the coronavirus pandemic, state news agency Saba reported.
Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik said the government had initially agreed to a UN proposal for both sides to cooperate in tackling the outbreak, but the Houthis refused to cooperate.
Instead, Abdulmalik said, the Houthis have escalated the violence in the country despite a raging health crisis.

The prime minister was speaking with Niel Annen, the German Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office.
Both officials discussed the results of the pledging conference which Saudi Arabia has lead to raise funds for Yemen.
Germany has pledged $141.1 million in support of war-torn Yemen.

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Saudi Arabia reopens mosques after 2 months coronavirus lockdown

31/05/20

Worshipers have been ordered to follow strict guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (SPA)
  • The government has asked people to keep a distance of two meters between rows, wear face masks and to bring their own prayer mats
  • The Friday sermon prayer should not exceed 15 minutes, authorities warned

Across Saudi Arabia 90,000 mosques have reopened for the first time in more than two months, Saudi state news agency SPA reported.

Worshipers have been ordered to follow strict guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Arab News

@arabnews

: Worshippers pray at the Prophet’s Mosque in after reopens mosqueshttps://arab.news/r8qy5 

The government has asked people to keep a distance of two meters between rows, wear face masks and to bring their own prayer mats.

Mosques were cleaned and sterilized by local authorities, including Qurans and Quran holders. Precaution has also been taken when opening doors and windows during prayer times and when worshipers enter the mosques.

Mosques will be opened 15 minutes before the call to prayer and will close 10 minutes after prayer.

The first call to prayer on Fridays will start 20 minutes before prayer time, and mosques will be opened 20 minutes before and will close 20 minutes after. The Friday sermon prayer should not exceed 15 minutes, authorities warned.

The new measures come as Saudi Arabia and other countries around the world begin to loosen restrictions following weeks of curfews and lockdowns.

Also Sunday, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem that had been closed since mid-March reopened for prayers. Worshipers waited outside the gates, many wearing surgical masks. As they entered, they were stopped to have their temperature taken.

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Hopeful and hopeless: Vox pop reveals mixed feelings about post-lockdown life in Saudi Arabia

30/05/20

A file photo shows a busiest road in Riyadh completely empty. (SPA)
  • Saudi Arabia began easing curfew restrictions on May 26
  • Workers expect drastic changes in coming months

JEDDAH: COVID-19 has turned the world inside out and upside down, leaving people confused and feeling lost. With the end of the lockdown in sight most of us will return to our daily routines, but with a greater level of uncertainty about the future.

On May 26 Saudi Arabia announced the easing of restrictions that had previously halted all social and economic activity across the country for more than two months. Domestic flights are due to resume on May 31, movement within cities and across city limits will be allowed and businesses are to reopen again gradually before a June 21 deadline when a nationwide curfew will be lifted.

The gradual easing of the curfew and the new rules surrounding it are subject to constant evaluation, as well as being subject to change if the situation warrants it.

Arab News carried out a vox pop to find out how people felt about the uncertainty of the current situation, if they felt hopeful that the coronavirus pandemic would end soon, if life would go back to normal, or if they felt hopeless and discouraged due to the uncertainty that comes with the crisis and having to adjust to a “new normal.”

A questionnaire was distributed among 90 people from different age groups. Participants were asked a series of questions that focused on how they felt about the next stages of post-lockdown life.

It is a difficult time and, though many of the people Arab News spoke to understand the measures put in place, their level of awareness has risen since the beginning of the pandemic. Throughout the lockdown Saudi authorities maintained a level of transparency to reassure the community and provide them with more answers than questions. Yet one question remains: What is going to happen next?

The majority of survey participants – 43.3 percent – were between the ages of 25 and 34, 31.1 percent were aged between 18 and 24 while 10 percent were 35 to 44 years old. Those between the age of 45 and 54 made up 8.9 percent of the group, and 3.3 percent were above the age of 55 and below the age of 18.

Employees, who made up 35.6 percent of the survey’s participants, felt that drastic changes would take place in the coming months that could affect their job performance and possibly their incomes.

Fowzan Hashmi, a private sector worker, was among those who said he felt hopeless due to the repercussions of the pandemic. He said he felt as if there was no end in sight. “Nothing seems (as if it will) go back to normal anytime soon. Higher costs of living. No salaries being paid. Life is getting difficult and people are not cautious enough.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Saudi Arabia began easing curfew restrictions on May 26.

• Workers expect drastic changes in coming months.

• People want everybody to continue taking precautions.

Life coach Nora Alrifai was more hopeful, however, and stressed that the pandemic presented a vital opportunity. “If we are not learning from the past then we are missing our future,” she said. “If humanity and primitive societies survived fatal epidemics throughout the years, so will we with our much higher awareness and evolution in different aspects of life. I won’t say that I am not worried or concerned, but I am keeping my hopes up.”

Shared responsibility

Life will not be the same for many people. Residents cooperating with the government and adhering to the policies put in place understand that, even with the curfew’s relaxation, everyone should continue taking precautionary measures.

Amani, a public sector employee, said that things would not be the same anymore, that people would be more aware and cautious when interacting with crowds and businesses that thrived via large numbers of people might suffer the most.

“I think after some time, people will have developed a stronger immunity to the virus, and its spread won’t leave as high an impact on the community as it is now,” she said.

Most people who took part in the survey believed that the situation would end with people around the world developing immunity to the virus, while others said that they were waiting for a vaccine. The majority of participants looked at the possibility that lives would change after the virus.

Kausar said: “The end will mark the beginning of something new. Life and work may change for good,” but she believed that there would be change for the better.

Areej was pessimistic because of the depressing news about selfish people flouting the rules. “I really hope that they find the vaccine soon so we can go back to our normal lives.”

Maha, a private sector employee, said that this period was temporary. “It will take time indeed and hopefully they will find a vaccine, but the virus won’t fade away and might linger.”

Rasha Khan said that this crisis would only end once people started taking precautions.

Many of the participants who were discouraged about the future were from a younger age group, yet most people in the survey shared the same sentiments about rule-breakers and were vocal in their disdain for them.

Munira Al-Mutairi, who was in the 45 to 54 age group, said: “I trust nature to balance itself out, some people will die and some people will learn some hard lessons.”

Coronavirus disease cases continue being recorded in the Kingdom, and the pandemic has shown us how fragile and unpredictable our lives are. The majority of people – 84.4 percent – were optimistic about things to come. With the ease in restrictions a shift in thinking and working is inevitable, but it will take time to adjust to post-lockdown life.

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King Salman: Saudi Arabia will overcome coronavirus with ‘resolve and positivity’

25/05/20

RIYADH: King Salman said on Sunday that he “sees hope in the coming days” in a message to mark Eid Al-Fitr.

Referring to the coronavirus pandemic, he said that Saudi Arabia will overcome “all calamity” through resolve and positivity.

The king also thanked God for the blessing of Eid Al-Fitr, a celebration marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Muslims around the world on Sunday began celebrating Eid with millions under strict stay-at-home orders and many fearing renewed coronavirus outbreaks.

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