Friend indeed: Saudi oxygen supplies arrive in India amid coronavirus catastrophe

Covid-19 coronavirus patients breathe with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, under a tent installed along the roadside in Ghaziabad, India, on April 28, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 30 April 2021

Friend indeed: Saudi oxygen supplies arrive in India amid coronavirus catastrophe

  • Oxygen deliveries from the Kingdom to ease shortage of life-saving gas amid a deadly surge in cases
  • Cooperation during the pandemic has further strengthened ties between India and Saudi Arabia

NEW DELHI: Reeling from a devastating wave of coronavirus cases, India has taken delivery of about 80 metric tons of oxygen from Saudi Arabia to help alleviate a critical shortage of the emergency gas.

Images of the first consignment of cryogenic tanks and medical-grade oxygen cylinders destined for an Indian port prompted an outpouring of gratitude and relief on Indian social media.

The acute shortage of oxygen in India underlines the severity of the coronavirus crisis ravaging the world’s second most populous country. Fragile supply chains have failed to keep pace with surging demand, piling pressure on health systems, crematoriums and the federal government.

India has recorded almost 18.7 million COVID-19 cases — second only to the US — and more than 207,000 fatalities to date. Under the circumstances, the Saudi oxygen shipment materialized not a moment too soon.

Trade and cultural links between ancient India and the Arab region go back almost 5,000 years. Formal diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Riyadh were established soon after India gained independence in 1947. Today Saudi Arabia is one of the largest suppliers of oil to India as well as one of its top trading partners.

The bilateral relationship reached new heights in February 2019 when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman paid a visit to New Delhi. The two sides signed investment deals worth $100 billion in the fields of energy, refining, petrochemical, infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing. A proposed Strategic Partnership Council came to fruition in October that year.

Since last year, the pandemic has converted relations between India and Saudi Arabia into a classic example of “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” As the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India (SII), a Pune-based biotechnology and pharmaceuticals company, has so far supplied Saudi Arabia with 3 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot.

But now India itself has appealed to friendly nations to make up for the massive shortfall of medical supplies. They have responded by sending liquid oxygen, oxygen concentrators and cryogenic oxygen tanks, diagnostic test kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment. Additionally, the US has “identified sources of specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacture of the Covishield (Oxford-AstraZeneca) vaccine.”

As of this week, Gujarat alone was recording at least 100 deaths and about 15,000 new COVID-19 cases every day. The situation in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state is now so precarious that hospitals are forced to turn patients away, unable to offer beds or sufficient oxygen.

To alleviate the pressure on hospitals, Gujarat’s mosques have established their own COVID-19 wards, fitted out with oxygen tanks donated by regional allies to help people in acute respiratory distress. The Darul Uloom Mosque in the city of Vadodara has capacity for more than 1,000 beds, but is having to limit its patient intake owing to the state’s severe shortage of oxygen.

“We are running just 142 beds, out of which only 120 beds have oxygen fittings,” Ashfaq Malek Tandalja, a member of Darul Uloom’s managing committee, told Arab News. “In the first wave of COVID-19, we were running a 1,000-bed facility, but this time we are not doing so because of the lack of oxygen in the state.”

Tandalja added: “With oxygen coming from Saudi Arabia and other countries, we are able to think of expanding the facilities. And in the coming days we would like to do that, because people need more beds.

“Saudi Arabia has responded to the crisis India is facing and is helping us with oxygen. This will save many lives and families.”

India has taken delivery of about 80 metric tons of oxygen from Saudi Arabia to help alleviate its acute shortage of the emergency gas amid a deadly COVID-19 wave. (Supplied)

On Wednesday, Indian authorities reported a daily record of more than 360,000 new COVID-19 cases and around 3,050 deaths nationwide — although many believe the true figure is much higher.

The rate of new cases has accelerated in recent weeks as the densely populated nation of 1.3 billion people grapples with a far more aggressive second wave. The capital New Delhi, which went into strict lockdown a week ago, is among the worst affected, with an infection rate of roughly 36 percent.

Last week, at least 50 critically ill patients died in two of city’s hospitals due to oxygen shortages. Mahendra Chouhan lost his wife on Sunday as he searched for oxygen or a hospital bed. “I ran from pillar to post to find oxygen. But by the time I got it, my wife had collapsed,” he told Arab News.

“Saudi Arabia’s oxygen will save so many lives. The government needs support from foreign countries to survive the crisis.”

Family members and relatives carry the body of a victim who died of the Covid-19 coronavirus amid burning pyres of other victims at a cremation ground in New Delhi. (AFP)

Shortages are largely the result of logistical challenges and bureaucratic mismanagement, with supplies failing to reach areas most in need.

Although India is a significant oxygen producer, turning out roughly 7,000 metric tons a day, hospitals typically rely on trucks that travel long distances to replenish their stocks.

To make matters worse, another virus variation has emerged on the subcontinent with a so-called double mutation, raising doubts about the future effectiveness of India’s already sluggish vaccine rollout.

Even before the pandemic hit, India’s healthcare infrastructure was in no shape to meet demands of this magnitude. Now, the public health system has all but collapsed in many states.

“In Gujarat, the situation is really scary and there is chaos all around,” Dr. Mona Desai, president of Ahmedabad Medical Association, told Arab News. “Hospital beds and oxygen are in short supply, leading to the loss of many precious lives.”

Patients breath with the help of oxygen masks inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid-19 coronavirus ward in New Delhi on April 27, 2021. (AFP)

Hospitals in Ahmedabad, home to 5.5 million people, are buckling under a record surge of coronavirus cases. “Besides the lack of beds, the city is also gasping for oxygen,” Desai said.

“Saudi Arabia’s gesture will help in saving many lives. This support is coming at a time when India is reeling under a severe oxygen crisis.”

On April 25, Saudi Arabia sent the first shipment of four ISO cryogenic tanks from Dammam to the port of Mundra in Gujarat. The Saudi supply was sent in cooperation with Indian conglomerate Adani Group and British chemical multinational Linde.

Oxygen tanks are loaded in Saudi Arabia's eastern port city of Dammam onto a ship bound for Gujarat, India on April 24, 2021. (Indian Embassy photo via Twitter)

“The Embassy of India is proud to partner with Adani Group and Linde in shipping the much-needed 80 metric tons of liquid oxygen to India,” New Delhi’s diplomatic mission to Riyadh said via Twitter on Sunday, thanking the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health “for all its help, support and cooperation.”

Just two days earlier, India had launched its “oxygen maitri” or “oxygen friendship” campaign in an appeal to neighbors and allies to help it procure more of the lifesaving gas.

On April 23, India’s home ministry said it was in talks to buy high-capacity oxygen-carrying tanks. The following day, the Indian Air Force brought four cryogenic tanks from Singapore.

A Covid-19 coronavirus patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, under a tent installed along a roadside in Ghaziabad on April 28, 2021. (AFP)

“At a time when the whole country is facing acute oxygen shortages, leading to the deaths of hundreds of people, Saudi help is laudable,” Dr. Harijit Singh Bhatti, president of the New Delhi-based Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, told Arab News.

“What is important now is to save as many lives as possible. The domestic supply of oxygen is being augmented. But before that, foreign support is crucial.”

There is little doubt that when the worst is over, India-Saudi relations will emerge as a friendship tested by time and circumstance.

Anil Wadhwa, a former diplomat and a senior fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation, a public policy think tank in New Delhi, said Riyadh’s gesture during this time of crisis “will create a more favorable impression of the Kingdom” in India.

“The Saudi government’s help is symbolic because it represents the readiness of the Gulf and Arab world to come to India’s aid in times of need.”


Twitter: @destinydefier

Saudi Arabia warns citizens who break COVID-19 travel red list rules of 3-year ban

Updated 27 July 2021

Saudi Arabia warns citizens who break COVID-19 travel red list rules of 3-year ban

  • The kingdom recorded 10 COVID-19 deaths and 1,379 new cases in past 24 hours
  • 3 mosques reopened in 2 regions after being sterilized after 3 people tested positive for COVID-19

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday warned against travel to banned destinations amid the pandemic.

The Interior Ministry said citizens who went to countries on the Kingdom’s ban list would be barred from traveling for three years, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Saudis have been barred from traveling to Indonesia over coronavirus concerns. Those currently in the Asian nation have been told to exercise caution and stay away from areas with high infection rates.

Authorities have also banned travel, without prior permission, to and from the UAE, Ethiopia, and Vietnam over concerns about the spread of more infectious variants.

The Kingdom confirmed 10 new COVID-19 related deaths on Tuesday, raising the total number of fatalities to 8,189.

The Ministry of Health confirmed 1,379 new cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 520,774 people have now contracted the disease. 

Of the total number of cases, 11,136 remain active and 1,419 in critical condition.

According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 273, followed by Makkah with 242, the Eastern Province with 224, Asir recorded 154, and Jazan confirmed 117 cases.

The health ministry also announced that 1,021 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 501,449.

The ministry renewed its call on the public to register to receive the vaccine, and adhere to the measures and abide by instructions.

Saudi Arabia has so far conducted more than 24.57 million PCR tests, with 109,194 carried out in the past 24 hours.

Testing hubs and treatment centers set up throughout the country have dealt with hundreds of thousands of people since the pandemic outbreak.

Taakad centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or only mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual. 

Tetamman clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms such as fever, loss of taste and smell, and breathing difficulties.

Appointments for both services can be made via the ministry’s Sehhaty app.

There are 25,317,550 people in the country who have been vaccinated so far, including 1,443,866 who are elderly.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs reopened three mosques in two regions after temporarily evacuating and sterilizing them after three people tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of mosques closed and reopened after being sterilized to 1,901 within 171 days.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 195 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 4.18 million.

Sterilization efforts intensify at Makkah’s Grand Mosque as Umrah pilgrims arrive

Updated 26 July 2021

Sterilization efforts intensify at Makkah’s Grand Mosque as Umrah pilgrims arrive

  • Foreign pilgrims will be able to perform Umrah with the start of the new Islamic year which is expected to fall on August 9

RIYADH: Sterilization at the Grand Mosque is being intensified as the holy site begins to receive Umrah pilgrims after the completion of Hajj 2021.
Procedures for regulating entry and exit, the allocation of specific lanes for people with special needs and the distribution of Zamzam water bottles to prayer areas, courtyards and tawaf areas are also in place to ensure the safety and comfort of pilgrims.
Foreign pilgrims will be able to perform Umrah with the start of the new Islamic year which is expected to fall on August 9, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Hajj for Hajj and Umrah Services Hesham Saeed told Al-Ekhbariya news channel.


Saudi navy unveils latest warship Jazan in Spain

Saudi and Spanish officials attend the unveiling of the latest Avante 2200 corvette for the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) at the Navantia shipyard in Spain on July 24, 2021. (SPA)
Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi navy unveils latest warship Jazan in Spain

  • The Avante 2200 corvette is the fourth of its type being built in a joint venture between Saudi Arabian Military Industries and Spain's Navantia

MADRID: The Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) recently celebrated the launch of the Avante 2200 corvette, which is the fourth warship of its type within the Sarwat project.

The ship, named Jazan, was unveiled by the Spanish shipbuilder as part of its ceremonial launching held at the shipyard of the Navantia Naval Industries Co., Spain.

The corvettes are being built in a joint venture between Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), and Navantia S.A., named SAMI Navantia Naval Industries.

They will be delivered in 2024, a year later than initially planned, and will feature special combat and fire control systems and integrated communications among other technologies.

The launch event was attended by the Saudi ambassador to Spain, Azzam bin Abdulkarim Al-Qain; the vice president of SAMI for corporate communication, support services and information technology, Wael bin Mohammed Al-Sarhan; as well as other senior officials from RSNF, Spanish Navy and SAMI Navantia Naval Industries.

Saudi ambassador to Spain, Azzam bin Abdulkarim Al-Qain, meets with officials of the SAMI Navantia Naval Industries in Spain on July 24, 2021. (SPA)

The commander of the RSNF, Lt. Gen. Adm. Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Ghufaili, said: “The Sarawat project will contribute to raising the level of readiness of the RSNF, enhancing maritime security in the region and protecting the vital strategic interests of the Kingdom. In addition, the project ships are an important addition to the capabilities of the RSNF in protecting the Kingdom’s maritime interests and localizing advanced military industries technically.”

The Sarawat project warships feature the latest combat systems to deal with all air threats, surface and subsurface, as well as being equipped for electronic wars. They have more capabilities than many of the world’s navies, and are a further addition to the capabilities of the RSNF in protecting the nation’s maritime security.

The project also includes training services for crews, training simulators, logistics, and long-term after-sales technical and logistical support.


Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president

Updated 26 July 2021

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president

Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser has been appointed as the new head of the Islamic Development Bank for the next five years.

He has been an adviser at the General Secretariat of the Saudi Council of Ministers and the chairman of the General Authority for Competition since 2016.

Al-Jasser received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of California in 1986. He obtained his master’s degree in economics from the same university in 1981, and a bachelor’s degree in economics from San Diego State University in 1979.

He served as the Kingdom’s economy and planning minister from 2011 to 2015, and as governor of the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) between 2009 and 2011. He was also the vice governor and vice chairman of the SAMA’s board from November 1995 to February 2009.

He has participated in major international events, including G20 meetings at the deputy, ministerial, governor and full summit levels. Al-Jasser also participated in regular meetings of the Bank for International Settlements from 1997 to 2011, and took part in local and international symposia, while also giving frequent lectures on economic and monetary policies.

His previous memberships of ministerial committees, boards and councils include the Council for Economic Affairs and Development, the Supreme Council for Civil Defense, and the Ministerial Committee for Mining Affairs among others.

Al-Jasser has received many awards such as the King Abdul Aziz Medal of the First Order in 2001, the Euromoney (Emerging Markets) Award for Central Bank Governor, MENA Region for the Year in 2009, the Arab Bankers Association of North America Achievement Award in 2010, and “The Banker” Award and “Central Bank Governor of the Year for the Middle East” in 2011.

Umrah pilgrims return to Grand Mosque after Hajj 2021

Updated 25 July 2021

Umrah pilgrims return to Grand Mosque after Hajj 2021

MAKKAH: Umrah pilgrims returned to the Grand Mosque to perform the lesser pilgrimage on Sunday after the successful and safe end of Hajj 2021.
Pilgrims will enter the Grand Mosque through specific gates in order to maintain precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure social distancing.
Specific locations have also been allocated for performing prayers and pilgrims will follow markings on the floor when performing tawaf as was seen during Hajj and throughout the coronavirus pandemic.