Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia announces new private sector rules

News Network
March 18, 2020

Riyadh, Mar 18: Private-sector businesses in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday were ordered to introduce enforced remote working for all employees for 15 days in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Businesses that require staff to be physically present to ensure they continue to operate — including those in vital or sensitive sectors such as electricity, water and communications — must reduce the number of workers in their offices to the bare minimum. This can be no more than 40 percent of the total number of staff.

In such cases precautionary measures set by the Ministry of Health must be followed. At offices, and staff accommodation, with more than 50 workers, an area at the entrance must be provided where temperatures can be taken and symptoms checked.

Employers must also set up a mechanism for workers to report any symptoms, such as high temperature, coughing or shortness of breath, or contact they have had with infected individuals or people who recently returned from other countries without following proper Ministry of Health quarantine procedures.

Inside offices, a safe amount of space between employees must be maintained at all times. In addition, all health clubs and nurseries provided by employers must close.

Pregnant women and new mothers, people suffering from respiratory diseases, those with immune-system problems or chronic conditions, cancer patients and employees above the age of 55 are to be given 14 days compulsory paid leave, which will not be deducted from their annual entitlement.

Businesses that are excluded from the new measures include pharmacies and supermarkets, and their suppliers. Private-sector organizations that provide services to government agencies must contact them before suspending workplace attendance. Any other business that considers it impossible to operate with only 40 percent of staff in the workplace must submit an exemption request to the authority that supervises it.

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News Network
September 23,2020

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Sharjah, Sep 23: An Indian expatriate cannot believe that he can finally go home after 20 years, with Dh750,000 of fine waived off by Sharjah authorities.

What's in a name? Even a letter matters, says Thanavel Mathiazhaagan, an Indian worker in the UAE who is set to return home after being granted a waiver of nearly Dh750,000 in overstay fines, reports Gulf News.

The man from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu claims that he could not avail amnesty opportunities in the UAE in the last 20 years as his identity verification was not cleared from India due to a mismatch in his father's name in documents back home and that shown in his passport. As it turns out, there was a spelling error in his father's name in the documents in India.

Mathiazhaagan, 56, said he himself realised this (the reason for not getting the clearance) only after his latest request for repatriation was taken up by two social workers in the UAE after he sought their help to return home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He told media that he had landed in the UAE in 2000 after paying Rs 120,000 (Dh6,048) to a recruitment agent for a job in Abu Dhabi. This could be verified from the stamp on his employment visa entry permit -- the only document that Mathiazhaagan has preserved, apart from a copy of the last page of his passport.

He said the agent had taken his original passport, claiming that his residence visa would be stamped in the passport once he gets the medical fitness certificate issued.

"I took the medical test and waited for my employment visa. But, the agent kept delaying it and later I got to know that the company, which was supposed to hire me, had shut down." Eventually, he said, the agent stopped answering his calls and could not be traced at all later.

"I stayed in a room with some people from my native place. I lived there for eight months with no job. After that I came to Sharjah and started doing odd jobs."

Mathiazhaagan said he illegally stayed in the UAE to feed his family by doing part-time jobs for various households and companies.

He claimed that he did try for returning home during the previous visa amnesty offers in the UAE and lost more than Dh10,000 to people who promised to help him with clearance of his documents that never came through.

Prior to the fine waiver announced till November 17 this year for people with expired visas or who had their visas cancelled before March 1 during the Covid-19 pandemic, the UAE government had granted visa amnesties in 2003, 2007, 2012 and 2018.

Gulf News could not independently verify if Mathiazhaagan had indeed applied for an emergency certificate (EC), a one-way travel document issued to Indians without a valid passport, in order to facilitate their return home, during the earlier instances of amnesty.

However, A. K. Mahadevan and Chandra Prakash. P, who helped Mathiazhaagan get an EC through the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said he had failed to get identity clearance from India during the pandemic. They said they found out the reason behind the rejection only after Mathiazhaagan met Mahadevan, seeking help to return home.

"His name is Thanavel Mathiazhaagan as per the copy of the last page of his lost passport and the UAE entry permit," said Prakash, the Vice-President of Indian People's Forum, a community organisation that also pitched to get a travel clearance for Mathiazhaagan.

"Unfortunately, the documents sent by Trichy Regional Passport Office to the Senthurai Police Station for his identity verification showed his father's name as Thangavel whereas his father's actual name is Thanavel -- according to all other records. The additional letter 'g' in the name created the problem," said Prakash.

The duo said they approached the Indian Embassy and the local departments in Mathiazhaagan's village to rectify the mistake and process his documents. "Indian Ambassador to the UAE Pavan Kapoor took special interest in solving this case after the issue was taken up with him," said Prakash.

Mahadevan said he was happy that Mathiazhaagan would be flying home soon and meeting his youngest daughter, who had not even been born when he left India for the UAE.

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News Network
September 16,2020

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Tbilisi, Sept 16: The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has approved the setting up of a regional office in Riyadh to support the growth of the Middle East’s tourism sector as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb said the UNWTO’s Executive Council members have approved the move to establish the office during a session in Georgia. The office will cover 13 countries within the region, and will serve as a platform to build long-term growth in the travel and tourism sector of the Middle East.

“International cooperation and the role of the UNWTO are more important than ever. I am therefore very excited that Saudi Arabia will become home to the first ever UNWTO Regional Office, which aims to support growth at a national and regional level,” Al-Khateeb said.

“In Saudi Arabia, we are very aware of the transformative power of tourism on the economy and people. We may still be a young destination, but tourism is at the forefront of Saudi Arabia’s vision for the future,” he added.

Recently, Al-Khateeb revealed that the Council of Ministers has given the Ministry of Tourism the go ahead to open a regional office of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in Riyadh as well as to establish a global academy for tourism training.

Al-Khateeb pointed out that the ministry, in cooperation with UNWTO, would work to lay the foundations and standards that enable the proposed academy to be among the best tourism academies in the world.

It is noteworthy that that the UNWTO secretary general praised the Saudi Summer season during a recent visit to the Kingdom during which he toured a number of Saudi summer destinations. Al-Khateeb hoped that the Kingdom, together with UNWTO, would launch a set of initiatives to develop the tourism sector in the region.

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Agencies
September 23,2020

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Saudi Arabia celebrates its National Day on Wednesday this year, with concerts and other events, while adhering to COVID-19 precautionary measures, to commemorate the Kingdom’s unification under its founder, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, 90 years ago.

Celebrations amid the coronavirus pandemic

This year, the country’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) organized a string of concerts that will take place from September 22-26 to celebrate the national holiday, in accordance with GEA guidelines that were put in place to ensure everyone’s safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidelines emphasize the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, reducing the duration of social contact, in addition to other preventative measures.

However, authorities in the Kingdom have reduced the number of attendees expected to attend the concerts as a precautionary measure against the spread of the coronavirus, according to Rotana Music, a record label company involved in organizing the concerts.

Also happening this year, Saudi designer Omaima Kindassa is staging a fashion show in Jeddah to showcase traditional clothing from regions around the Kingdom, inspired by the traditions of the diverse tribal communities in the country.

On Wednesday, more than 60 military and civilian aircrafts will participate in a live show that will air on Saudi TV 1, GEA said in a tweet, adding that it will be the largest air show in the history of Saudi Arabia’s National Day celebrations.

Additionally, GEA has set up an online platform for free National Day-themed printables that includes logos, images, and illustrations that users could download and print at home to use for decorative purposes.

Sense of unity

Saudis feel “a sense of unity” every year on National Day, 30-year-old Sultan al-Osaimi from Riyadh told Al Arabiya English.

“I feel like people are united on National Day, you can feel it in the air. Everyone feels a sense of belonging, this is especially heightened on national holidays,” al-Osaimi said.

“Everybody gets excited, people dress up in green [the color of the Saudi flag].”

“I am proud to be from this country. May our country always stay safe,” al-Osaimi added.

Al Anoud bin Juma, a 23-year-old, echoed al-Osaimi’s remarks.

“Although many people will stay home due to COVID-19, I really feel like Saudis have a genuine feeling of belonging and unity, this year more than ever.”

Bin Juma, who lives in Riyadh but is a Qassim native, explained that this feeling of unity comes from the safety and security the Kingdom provides, even during a global pandemic. “I feel safe here [in Saudi] and I appreciate the efforts of the country during the coronavirus crisis.”

“Saudi Arabia always puts its citizens and residents first, and I am very thankful to be from this country,” Bin Juma said, adding that she loves to celebrate its National Day.

Previous National Day celebrations

In 2005, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz made September 23 a national holiday in the Kingdom.

Since then, the country celebrated its national day in various ways. Last year, Saudi Arabia’s 89th National Day featured over 70 entertainment events across the Kingdom, including light shows, fireworks, and music performances, organized by the country’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) for a five-day National Day Season.

In 2018, more than 900,000 fireworks lit up the sky simultaneously from over 58 sites across the Kingdom in celebration of its 88th National Day.

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