Expats appreciate the Saudi government reaction to the pandemic

Published:  22 Apr at 6 PM
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Saudi’s glittering malls, walkways and streets now hold an eerie silence rather than huge numbers of expats and residents.

As Saudi Arabia’s numbers of coronavirus cases continue to increase, Riyadh’s vast cityscape with its boulevards, hotels, shuttered shops and restaurants as well as mosques give a silent response to its rulers’ attempts to curb the spread of the deadly infection. Highways once crammed with cars now have their lanes blocked by police vehicles and even the state’s sacred cities of Medina and Mecca are closed to pilgrims and travellers.

Both Riyadh and Jeddah are now quarantined against the virus, and nightly curfews are in operation in other regions. Reports of infections and deaths to date total 2,039 and 25 respectively, a miniscule amount compared with many other world countries, but the Saudi rulers aren’t taking any chances. The story is similar to many around the world whose governments have acted swiftly and decisively to the threat, thus reassuring the local and expat communities that everything that can be done is being done.

Early last month, the virus arrived in Saudi via travellers and pilgrims, with the government shutting down its borders almost immediately although the infection was already established and spreading silently from person to person. It’s not the first deadly virus to hit the state, as in 2012 it was forced to join battle with the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome commonly known as MERS. This experience is one reason for the swift reaction when covid-19 struck, with drive-through testing units and hospital triage units already set up.

Many of Saudi’s long-term expat community lived through the Mers outbreak and were aware certain protocols were still in place when the pandemic hit. The kingdom’s Mawid medical app immediately launched a covid-19 self-assessment app system checker, with some 25,000 self-tests already being completed. Social distancing when shopping for essentials was made straightforward by in-car ordering, and shopping times for vulnerable groups such as the elderly were allocated. Governmental laboratories began manufacturing hand sanitiser to be given out for free, and the city’s streets and open areas are regularly disinfected.

Given the chaos in the majority of other world countries, including the appalling examples of the USA and UK’s reaction to the pandemic, expats living and working in Saudi are grateful for the way the Kingdom is dealing with the deadly infection. Many who had the opportunity to return to their home countries decided to stay as Saudi was perceived as far safer and more secure.
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