RIYADH — The Kingdom’s health and socio-economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic has added new innovative concepts to crisis management and demonstrated a model to the global community in fighting the novel coronavirus.
Placing humanity at the heart of its policy response to COVID-19, the Kingdom has made no distinction whatsoever between citizens and residents and has been at the forefront of international community’s fight against the coronavirus.
In this regard, the Kingdom has adopted a complementary approach involving the government’s agencies, civil society and voluntary associations in anti-coronavirus joint efforts exerted side by side with international organizations, mainly the World Health Organizations (WHO).
The Saudi COVID-19 policy response has been also characterized by fact-checking, health risk assessment and executable firm countermeasure preparedness in addition to the follow-up of the outcomes of the Ministry of Health’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention on the COVID-19 outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan which constituted the reason behind the Kingdom’s early response to the coronavirus pandemic, citing the issuance of a Royal decree on Jan. 26, 2020, forming a “Higher Committee on Coronavirus Prevention Measures” which comprised of representatives from 20 government agencies.
The Kingdom deserves the credit for taking the necessary precautionary measures, including the suspension of travel to China and the entry of visitors with tourist visas in February 2020, which revealed the Kingdom’s early sensing of the threat of the virus and the challenges it could pose.
The challenges were based on pandemic graph and development, starting with China reporting on Dec. 31, 2019, a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown causes in the central city of Wuhan which shortly afterwards led to the discovery of the coronavirus through the WHO’s declaration of COVID-19 pandemic outbreak on March 11, 2020.
According to its anti-coronavirus strategy, the Kingdom has relied on its decades-long expertise in dealing with pandemics, crowd control and healthcare, particularly during the Hajj and Umrah seasons, making use of its advanced infrastructure through more than 494 hospitals and healthcare centers across the country.
The Kingdom’s experience in combating Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 and the years after has contributed to boosting the preparedness of hospitals and establishing isolation units for respiratory diseases equipped with specialized ventilation systems to protect doctors from infections.
Fully aware of the negative impact of the coronavirus-combating measures on citizens and companies, the Kingdom implemented a set of economic relief and stimulus measures, providing guarantees to cover 60% of the income of affected citizens working in the private sector as well as allowing business owners to postpone the payment of value-added, production and income taxes for a period of three months and extending support package worth SR177 billion to small and medium enterprises.
The Kingdom also pumped SR47 billion in health care and put it at the disposal of the Ministry of Health and secured free treatment to COVID-19 patients in addition to conducting large-scale random population testing for rapid detection of cases and launching a COVID-19 test results online application.
As per efforts to improve the healthcare system and increase hospital capacity, mobile field hospitals have been put in place with 100-bed capacity each in addition to preparing other 25 hospitals to receive confirmed COVID-19 cases and providing 80,000 hospital beds, 8000 ICU beds and 2200 isolation beds to the Kingdom’s healthcare sectors besides enhancing border control measures for coronavirus.
The ministry also established fixed and mobile testing units in which an appointment could be booked through Sehhaty App with the aim of reaching out to areas, which are crowded with citizens and residents regardless of their legal status.
With coronavirus cases accelerating worldwide to a pandemic level, the National Health Laboratory had improved its preparedness and technical capabilities and was thus able to detect the disease in a record time since the registration of the first infectious cases in China.
The Ministry of Health’s Global Center for Mass Gatherings Medicine also developed the Salem Tool COVID-19 as a measurement tool for assessing health risks in gatherings and events, providing recommendations for enhancing health safety and preventing dangers of the novel COVID-19 virus, an information published on the ministry’s website.
The Kingdom’s efforts to deal with the crisis continued, covering humanitarian, health, security, social and economic sectors while evacuating 10 Saudi students from the disease-stricken Chinese city of Wuhan, and conducted all laboratory tests to ensure their safety.
With the confirmation of the first case of coronavirus on March 2, 2020, and the subsequent increase in number of confirmed cases and exposure to confirmed cases in various regions, many preventive measures and strict regulatory rules have been taken due to such exceptional circumstances, spurred by the support and adherence of citizens and residents to health protocols and coronavirus-containment regulations aiming to detect, prevent and contain the virus and find out a national approach to provide remedy of the disease.
Among the major decisions taken was the temporary ban on Umrah (minor pilgrimage), the suspension of study and international and domestic air travel, the implementation of wide-range field survey and the expansion of laboratory capacity in addition to imposing partial and full curfew across the Kingdom, providing free treatment for all coronavirus patients, regardless of their legal situations and waiving punishments against them, if any, and conducting last year’s Hajj (pilgrimage) for a limited number of people from all nationalities living in Saudi Arabia in line with the Higher Islamic Shariah Objectives.
In its endeavor to unify global efforts to alleviate the consequences of the coronavirus crisis, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman invited world leaders to hold an extraordinary G20 virtual summit to discuss a global response to COVID-19. Chairing the summit, King Salman called for intensified international efforts to address the coronavirus crisis and alleviate its health, social and economic consequences.
The summit concluded with leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies pledging to inject over $5 trillion into the global economy to limit job and income losses from the coronavirus and overcome the pandemic. Saudi Arabia, the then current G20 president, also pledged $500 million to support global efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of the Kingdome’s global efforts to combat the pandemic and in response to WHO’s urgent appeal to all member states aiming to intensifying efforts to take global measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the Kingdom’s endeavor also included providing $ 10 million in support of the international health organization.
The Kingdom also extended a package of health aid and supplies to the People’s Republic of China that included respirators, solution and intravenous pumps, cardiac shock and patient monitoring devices, facemasks and protective clothing.
Through the Riyadh-based King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief), the Kingdom has supported the Republic of Yemen’s anti-coronavirus efforts with special equipment, medicines, and medical supplies valuing $3 million in addition to enhancing the country’s medical preparedness through a $ 10 million co-concluded with |WHO project. The Kingdom has also extended support for Palestine worth of more than $3 million.
With life gradually coming back to normal while maintaining some measures to protect public health, the Kingdom has managed to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus crisis with minimum losses amid the efforts exerted to protect citizens and residents.
In continuation of the blessed efforts and pre-emptive steps taken since the outbreak of the pandemic, and in implementation of the leadership’s directives, the Ministry of Health is carrying on with free-of-charge vaccination against the coronavirus for all citizens and residents through registering to “Sehhaty” App.
The service is available at several sites throughout the country. Meanwhile, the public health concerned agencies are busy checking the adherence to precautionary measures in all sites. — SPA