The Ministry of Health (MoH) reports key figures related to COVID-19 on a daily basis for the previous day. The figures mentioned here are for June 4, 2021:
A national preparedness and response plan was in place in early January 2020, long before the first case of COVID-19 was identified. Mass media efforts were made to spread information in more than 15 languages to reach everyone (Saudi has a large expatriate population). On March 23, a curfew was imposed. Early measures to reduce the spread of the virus included closure of schools; stopping all sports activities, praying at mosques and mass gatherings; and closures of shopping centers. Public employees, followed by employees in the private sector, were asked to work remotely. Visas to the holy sites in Makkah and Medina were stopped.
Laboratory testing for COVID-19 using PCR tests was provided free of charge for anyone who needed it. Drive-thru PCR testing facilities were quickly established as well. Initially, the MoH designated 25 hospitals and 80,000 hospital beds, including 8,000 intensive care unit beds, for treatment of COVID-19 cases. As case load increased, more facilities were added, including field hospitals. Later, COVID-19-only clinics (Tetamman Clinics) were established across the country.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had a multisectoral, all-of-government approach. There was political commitment at the highest level. The team in charge of the response had the technical capabilities and had prior experience with another serious coronavirus infection (MERS), and financial resources were made available for the COVID-19 response.
With the existence of effective vaccines — presently, the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines are offered in Saudi — and the current progress in the vaccination campaign, we hope that new infections will decline, negating the need for more drastic actions like lockdowns. However, we should not be complacent. With many countries in the world not yet having vaccination programs up and running, there is a possibility of emergence of new variants of the virus that can cause a setback in efforts across the globe. Thus, continuous vigilance is in order.
Travelers from countries with a serious epidemic (Category 1) are not allowed into Saudi until they’ve spent 14 days in a non-Category 1 country. The list of Category 1 countries has been reduced, at present, and only nine countries are considered Category 1. Apart from Category 1 countries, travelers may have to take one or more of the following precautions based on whether they are vaccinated or not: temperature-taking upon arrival, having a PCR test (conducted not more than 72 hours before travel to the kingdom), home quarantine and institutional quarantine. Those who were vaccinated before arrival to Saudi must register their vaccination status on an application before traveling to the kingdom.
In addition to the precautions at ports of entry, there are other routine measures that have been established to prevent a surge of new cases — for example, mandatory wearing of face masks and temperature checks before entering shopping venues, companies, schools and governmental buildings. The Tawakkalna App on smartphones is being used to help limit crowding in shops and other venues by giving a message when the capacity of that place is reached.
The following are credible sources that provide up-to-date information and advisories for travelers: