Saudi Minister of Health: Covid second wave could be bigger than the first

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Saudi Arabia has reminded nationals and residents the pandemic is far from over, urging them to stick to the rules to stop the virus spreading.

Health Minister Dr Tawfiq Al Rabiah said cases in the kingdom were rising once more.

“The second wave of Covid-19 [could be] bigger than the first, and we are not immune to it. We stress the importance of adhering to preventive measures to limit the spread,” he said.

He said stricter measures may have to be brought in if people refused to follow the rules.

The kingdom registered 270 new cases of the virus on Saturday, a far cry from the peak in June last year of more than 4,000, but still a worrying upwards trend from a daily total of under 100 earlier in January this year.

Since the start of the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has registered 367,813 infections.

Most cases have been in Riyadh, the Eastern Region or Makkah. The death toll exceeds 6,300.

Saudi reported 293 new recoveries on Saturday, raising the tally to 359,299.

Authorities say about 12.2 million PCR tests have been conducted to date, with more than 36,000 tests performed in the past 24 hours.

While cases rise, the immunisation plan is progressing. An additional three million AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses are due to arrive from the Serum Institute of India this week.

Some took to social media to applaud the efficient distribution of vaccines.

“Second vaccination done in orderly fashion. In front of me are three Indians: Mohan from Uttar Pradesh, Abdul Latif from Mumbai and Joseph from Kerala,” tweeted Khaled Al Maeena, a media professional living in Jeddah.

“A chance meeting that showcases Indian diversity. The Ministry of Health provides free vaccines to all, irrespective of nationality or religion.”

On Friday, the rise in cases led the government to extend the travel ban for all citizens until May 17.

“It is the first time in our lives that we haven’t been allowed to travel. As much as all of us would like to get out and go back to what was once normal, we are proud of the kingdom’s efforts to protect us, our borders and our communities as much as they can,” said Saud Nassar, a 34-year-old Saudi living in Riyadh.

He applauded the Saudi government’s actions but said the public should be more vigilant.

“Since the cases dropped, people have started going out in bigger groups, and that lapse in our judgement is the reason cases are picking up again,” he said.

Mahmoud Salem, 28, said his friends abroad were struggling to be tested or living in areas with high numbers of infections, such as London. He said the extended ban on travel was understandable.

“I think this gives us more confidence in our government. Even though we can’t travel until May, we know they are looking out for us,” said Mr Salem, an entrepreneur in Riyadh.

The government has made exceptions to enable some Saudi nationals to travel abroad.

According to the General Directorate of Passports, they are provided only one permit to a requested destination, and must travel within 30 days of it being issued.

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