Saudi Arabia unveils SR120bn business support war chest to fight virus pandemic

Saudi Arabia has suspended domestic flights, trains, buses and taxis for 14 days in a heightened effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19. (AFP)
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Updated 21 March 2020

Saudi Arabia unveils SR120bn business support war chest to fight virus pandemic

  • Immediate steps to ensure the safety of its citizens and residents
  • The Kingdom would do whatever required to tackle the crisis, say health minister

JEDDAH: Saudi government ministers on Friday announced a war chest of more than SR120 billion ($32 billion) to fight the “unprecedented” health and economic challenges facing the country as a result of the killer coronavirus pandemic.

During a press conference in Riyadh, finance minister and acting minister of economy and planning, Mohammed Al-Jadaan, unveiled a SR70 billion stimulus package to support the private sector, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and businesses worst-hit by the virus outbreak.

And the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) has also sidelined SR50 billion to help the Kingdom’s banking sector, financial institutions and SMEs.

Al-Jadaan said the government had introduced tough measures to protect the country’s citizens while immediately putting in place a financial safety net. He added that the Kingdom was moving decisively to address the global COVID-19 disease crisis and cushion the financial and economic impact of the outbreak on the country.

The SR70 billion package of initiatives revealed by the minister will include exemptions and postponement of some government dues to help provide liquidity for private-sector companies.

Minister of Health Dr. Tawfig Al-Rabiah noted the raft of precautionary measures that had been introduced by the Kingdom in cooperation with the private sector and government agencies to combat the spread of the coronavirus, highlighting the important contribution of the data communication services sector.

He reassured the Saudi public that the Kingdom would continue to do whatever was required to tackle the crisis.

“This pandemic has a lot of challenges. It’s difficult to make presumptions at this moment as we’ve seen; many developed countries did not expect the rate of transmission of this virus.

“We see that the reality of the situation is different from what many expected. The virus is still being studied and though we know the means of transmission, it is transmitted at a very fast rate, having spread to many countries faster than expected.

“We see that many countries have not taken the strong precautionary measures from the beginning of the crisis which led to the vast spread of the virus in these countries,” Al-Rabiah said.

He pointed out that social distancing would help slow the spread.

Al-Jadaan said the Saudi government had the financial and economic capacity to deal with the situation. “We have large reserves and large investments, but we do not want to withdraw from the reserves more than what was already announced in the budget. We do not want to liquidate any of the government’s investments so we will borrow.

“We have approval from the government after the finance committee raised its recommendations to increase the proportion of the domestic product borrowing from 30 percent to 50 percent. We do not expect to exceed 50 percent from now until the end of 2022,” he added.

The government would use all the tools available to it to finance the private sector, especially SMEs, and ensure its ongoing stability.

The finance minister said that at this stage it was difficult to predict the economic impact of the pandemic on the private sector, but he emphasized that international coordination, most notably through G20 countries and health organizations, was ongoing.

On recorded cases of the COVID-19 disease in the Kingdom, Al-Rabiah said: “Many of the confirmed cases are without symptoms, this is due to the precautionary measures being considered.

“As soon as a case is confirmed, we contact and examine anyone who was in direct contact with the patient. This epidemiological investigation, is conducted on a large scale to investigate any case that was in contact with the patient.”

Al-Jadaan also announced the formation of a committee made up of the ministers of finance, economy and planning, commerce, and industry and mineral resources, along with the vice chairman of the board of the Saudi National Development Fund, and its governor.

The committee will be responsible for identifying and reviewing incentives, facilities, and other initiatives led by the fund.

Committees had also been established, said Al-Jadaan, to study the impact and repercussions of the coronavirus crisis on all sectors and regions, and look at ways of overcoming them through subsidies or stimulus packages.

 
 


Saudi Arabia confirms 154 new coronavirus cases

Updated 50 min 31 sec ago

Saudi Arabia confirms 154 new coronavirus cases

  • Sixteen of the new cases had come from abroad

JEDDAH: Saudi Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly on Monday confirmed 154 new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Kingdom. Sixteen of the new cases had come from abroad.

“Since their entry into Saudi Arabia, they have been placed in quarantine,” said Al-Aly at the daily press conference held to announce updates on COVID-19 in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia announced free treatment to all COVID-19 patients in both government and private health facilities in the Kingdom.

Health Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah announced the royal order and said it included citizens, residents and those in violation of residency laws.

Al-Aly said: “This gesture is undoubtedly — as the health minister stressed — customary in this country. It is a very important humanitarian step. It adds to all the previous steps that the country has taken to give this community the highest levels of protection and health security.”

Al-Aly provided a breakdown of the latest cases. The majority were recorded in Makkah, with 40 cases, followed by Dammam (34), Riyadh (22) and Madinah (22). Jeddah, Hofuf, Khobar, Qatif and Taif all recorded a low number of cases.

Tabuk, Buraidah, Yanbu, Al-Ras, Khamis Mushait, Dhahran, Samtah and Al-Duwadimi reported one case each.

“This brings the total number of registered cases of coronavirus in the Kingdom to 1,453. Most of the patients are in a stable condition and are showing uplifting results,” Al-Aly said.

He said 22 cases are still receiving intensive care, given their critical health conditions. “No additional deaths were recorded and 49 additional cases were treated, bringing the total number of recovering cases to 115,” he added.

The number of reported COVID-19 cases worldwide has reached 734,000. Around 34,000 people have died; 152,000 have recovered.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Talal Al-Shalhoub said that a number of neighborhoods in Makkah will be isolated as a further precautionary measure.

He said the restriction was introduced to limit the spread of the virus in the Kingdom and to preserve the health and safety of citizens and residents.

Al-Shalhoub said the isolation measures would be implemented in Ajyad, Masafi,Misfalah, Al-Hujun, Al-Nakkasa and Hosh Bakr.

He added that the restrictions will be “preventing entry or exit … and preventing touring throughout the day for 24 hours, from 3 p.m. as of March 30 until further notice.”

Residents of the selected Makkah neighborhoods will be allowed to leave their homes for necessities such as health care and groceries “within the scope of the isolation between 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.”

The ministry said that all activities that have been allowed during curfew hours should be carried out in the strictest limits and in accordance with the procedures and controls determined by the concerned authority.

Saudi intensive care unit patient Moayad Qashqari encouraged all residents to seek medical attention if they experience any symptoms.

Commenting on the royal order, he said: “This is a call for all residents in our country; whether they are residence violators or those whose residency has expired. The hospital doors are opened for them, they will not be rejected if their residency has expired.”

He added: “They will be provided with treatment to go home fully recovered. All residents must take this step to look after their health and the well-being of their families. If it isn’t fatal to one person, it could be fatal to someone else.

“We advise everyone to be cooperative and take responsibility.”
 

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