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

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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.

This article was first published in Arab News

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