HEALTHMIDDLE EASTOPINION

Saudi Arabia unveils $13.3B package for private sector in the wake of coronavirus

Riyadh–Saudi Arabia’s central bank unveiled a $13.3 billion package to support private businesses as the economy grapples with the impact of coronavirus. The package by Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) includes making a substantial amount available to banks and financing companies in return for deferring small and medium-size businesses’ loans.

The package will also bring loans to SMEs provided through banks. The businesses will be also supported through a 6-billion Saudi riyal loan guarantee program. The package comes as Saudi Arabia reported 17 new cases of the deadly coronavirus, raising the total number of recorded cases in the Kingdom to 103 on Saturday, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), citing the Saudi ministry of health.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, are monitoring the situation. The Saudi Ministry of Health also announced that every traveller who came to the Kingdom from March 13, 2020, onward must remain in home quarantine and will be granted medical leave equivalent to the duration of that period. These measures come in continuation of the efforts made to limit and prevent the spread of the virus.

Also, Saudi Arabia has decided to temporarily suspend all international flights for two weeks starting from Sunday (March 15) as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus, Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday quoting an official source in the Ministry of Interior. The citizens and expatriates who are unable to return due to the suspension or who go into quarantine after returning will be granted an “exceptional official holiday,” the SPA report added.

According to the report, the Ministry of Health in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) and other relevant agencies will make arrangements for the arrival of citizens who wish to return, as the relevant procedures will be announced within a week. Saudi Arabia early on Friday reported 24 new cases of the virus, bringing the total number of cases to 86 in the Kingdom.

The country has implemented several precautionary measures since the outbreak of the virus, including halting flights to coronavirus-hit nations, suspending tourist visas, and prohibiting all public events.  In fact, Saudi Arabia has imposed several travel restrictions as part of its efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus in the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Health issued a set of guidelines which put the countries where the coronavirus has spread into two categories and listed the health procedures put in place for those showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection arriving in Saudi Arabia. Those subject to new surveillance include patients with acute respiratory infection, including a fever or recent history of fever, cough, or sore throat, and within the 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms have a history of travel to areas with presumed ongoing community transmission (China, Iran, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong), have come in close physical contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, or work in or attended a healthcare facility where coronavirus patients were admitted.

Others arriving to the Kingdom who will be subject to new guidelines include adults with severe acute respiratory illness who have tested negative for MERS, influenza, and coronavirus and after clinical assessment show no evidence of epidemiological link to COVID-19 cases and also have no known cause for their illness after assessment.

Category A includes nine countries: China, Egypt, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and Spain. Arrivals from those countries will be admitted to a hospital under contact and droplet precautions regardless of the case’s clinical severity until the COVID-19 test result is reported negative and the person is clinically cleared.

Category B includes 32 countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Congo, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Senegal, Singapore, Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, UK, US, and Yemen. If arrivals from those countries are clinically stable, home isolation may be considered only if the standards are acceptable to the authorities.

On the regional level, the Jeddah-based Organization for Islamic Conference (OIC) Health Ministers reviewed the latest developments on the status of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the OIC member countries. Through video conferencing, the ministers discussed the measures adopted to prevent the spread of the virus in their respective countries, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said Saturday.

This video conferencing was held in the presence of OIC Secretary General Dr. Yousef Bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen. The ministers valued the great efforts being exerted by the health personnel in member countries and their contribution to preventing the spread of the virus. They urged the citizens and expatriates in the member countries to implement the precautionary measures and avoid public gatherings.

They stressed the importance of seeking information only from official sources and not to heed to rumors. They agreed to hold fortnightly meetings at the level of undersecretaries of health ministries for the purpose of continuous follow up of the latest developments, coordination on joint decisions and exchange of data via the International Health Regulations Office.

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Ghazanfar Ali Khan

Ghazanfar Ali Khan is a senior Indian journalist living and working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for the past 26 years in mainstream journalism. He is currently associated with three different magazines besides offering media consultancy services to several clients. Mr Khan has reported widely on politics, development, security, entertainment, aviation, and humanitarian issues from Saudi Arabia, India, the UK, Italy, Greece, Belgium, the Netherlands, Nepal, Bahrain, Switzerland, Sweden, Indonesia, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the UAE, China, Malaysia, Bahrain, and more recently from Germany.

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