Riyadh – Mubasher: Saudi Arabia’s success story in managing the COVID-19 outbreak marks its outstanding agility in responding to public health emergencies, as well as ensuring the well-being of residents and pilgrims is a key pillar of the kingdom’s healthcare strategy, according to a press release.
The successful response to the pandemic and its challenges came at a time when oil prices were volatile. The kingdom walked the talk in this regard, scoring across all four phases of the preparedness and response framework - prevent, detect, contain, and treat.
Overcoming challenges through concerted efforts
Given that Saudi Arabia has one of the most challenging environments in managing the crisis, being the most populated GCC country, with a large population of expatriates as well as pilgrims who come from across the world to visit the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Even before a single COVID-19 case was reported in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia suspended pilgrimages. Access to the two holy cities was barred as early as 26 February, long before many nations had even considered lockdown and even before the World Health Organisation (WHO) had labelled COVID-19 as a global pandemic.
This foresight helped achieve better outcomes in managing the virus spread and enabled the kingdom to be among countries that did not report an uncontrollable outbreak.
Moreover, the Ministry of Health relied on the most advanced digital healthcare structure, as well as the fast-paced mobilisation of more than 25 hospitals and care resources during the early phases of the pandemic, in efforts to contain the outbreak.
Food security was ensured with well-stocked supermarkets, even as reports of hoarding were making headlines in other nations.
With that being said, the kingdom successfully navigated the crisis and is today on the road to the new normal, thanks to its decisive policymaking, strong governance, and a robust healthcare system.
Nationwide detection programme
On 30 March, at the start of the pandemic, King Salman bin Abdulaziz decreed that coronavirus treatment must be available for free to anyone in need of medical care, including those who reside in the kingdom illegally.
Soon after, a high-level multisectoral committee, headed by the Minister of Health, was established to evaluate the situation and to take timely action. Updates were communicated to the general public to promote transparency and build trust.
Initially, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing capacity in the kingdom neared 1,000 tests per day and has increased to 95,000, with the daily average performed tests reaching 65,000.
As of 21 July, health authorities conducted over 3.5 million laboratory tests for COVID-19.
The kingdom further opened free mass testing drive-through test centres in major cities, including Mecca, Medina, Riyadh, and Jeddah, and activated (Tetamman) Clinics that function as fever clinics - in over 230 locations across the country for patients showing symptoms.