Saudi Arabia Lifts COVID-19 Restrictions as Infection Rates Decline

Saudi Arabia Lifts COVID-19 Restrictions as Infection Rates Decline

But with less than 60% of the population fully vaccinated and a fatality rate of 4%, has Riyadh relaxed the rules too quickly?

Saudi Arabia on Sunday began lifting COVID-19 restrictions throughout the kingdom in response to evidence that the threat from the novel coronavirus has been significantly reduced – at least for now.

All Saudi airports for both public and private aviation will operate at full capacity, the General Authority of Civil Aviation said in an announcement carried by the Saudi Press Agency. Travelers to and from the kingdom must still be immunized. The immunity status of Saudi residents is tracked by the Tawakklna application, developed by the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority.

Saudi Interior Minister Abdulaziz bin Saud Al Saud announced the new regulations on October 15. From Sunday, October 17, wearing masks in open spaces was no longer required of fully vaccinated people. Social distancing rules have been canceled and public transportation and venues such as restaurants and cinemas can now operate at full capacity. Mask mandates still apply to indoor venues.

Limits on the number of people who can visit the Grand Mosque in Mecca and Prophet’s Mosque in Medina have been canceled. The mosques are open to pilgrims who are fully vaccinated. They must still wear masks and use the Eatmarna or Tawakkalna tracking applications.

The Health Ministry will continue to monitor COVID-related statistics and could reimpose restrictions if it sees a reversal in the current mostly positive trends.

As of October 19, Saudi Arabia’s seven-day rolling average of daily new confirmed cases was 44.86, or 1.27 new cases per million people. This puts Saudi Arabia in a better position than all other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, with the exception of Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia, where any statistics about the pandemic carry a high degree of uncertainty and the actual numbers are assumed to be much higher than the officially confirmed numbers.

The kingdom’s daily new confirmed deaths from COVID-19, also calculated as a seven-day rolling average, stood at 2.29, or 0.07 daily deaths per million people. This too is better than all other MENA region countries with the exception of Afghanistan, Algeria, and Somalia, where the same caveats about uncertainty and underreporting apply, and Qatar, where the confirmed numbers are considered more reliable.

Saudi Arabia’s effective reproduction rate (R), a measure of the average number of new infections caused by a single infected individual, stands at 0.87 – about midrange among countries in the MENA region, where R currently ranges from 0.31 in the Palestinian territories to 1.21 in Sudan. If R were to creep back up above 1 and stay there over time, it would be an indication that the spread of the virus was again on the rise.

Saudi Arabia’s case fatality rate, the ratio between confirmed deaths and confirmed cases, calculated as a seven-day rolling average, is now relatively high at 4.02%. Among MENA states, only Syria (4.36%), Egypt (5.28%) and Afghanistan (6.18%) have higher fatality rates. Saudi Arabia previously did better, with a 1.6% cumulative fatality rate over the course of the pandemic. Globally, the current fatality rate is 1.64% and the cumulative rate is 2.03%.

Testing in Saudi Arabia is relatively low – only 1.48 daily new tests per 1,000 people (calculated as a seven-day rolling average) as of October 18. Throughout the course of the pandemic, testing in Saudi Arabia was low, with only 843.11 tests carried out per 1,000 people – far fewer than in countries like Cyprus (15,840.71 tests per 1,000 people), United Arab Emirates (8,959.12 per 1,000 people) and Bahrain (3,842.19 per 1,000 people). But now especially the low Saudi testing rate may reflect a decrease in public concern as the number of new cases declines.

Having said that, in UAE, where daily new cases have plummeted since the end of June, the rate of testing keeps climbing and now stands at 32.38 daily new tests per 1,000 people – second-highest after Cyprus (56.98 daily new tests per 1,000 people) among the 15 MENA countries for which data is available. The lowest measured testing rate is currently in Pakistan (0.21 daily tests per 1,000 people).

The current positivity rate in Saudi Arabia is only 0.1% – the second-lowest after UAE (0%) among the 14 MENA countries for which data is available. The region’s highest measured positivity rate is now in the Palestinian territories, where 13.7% of tests come back positive for COVID-19.

Currently, 59.13% of Saudis are fully vaccinated. MENA countries with higher rates of full vaccination include Cyprus (63.23%), Bahrain (64.91%), Israel (64.91%) and UAE (85.63%). About 67.82% of Saudis have received at least one dose of the vaccine – a higher percentage than anywhere else in the region except Israel (70.65%) and UAE (95.53%).

COVID-19 booster shots have not been rolled out in the kingdom or anywhere else in the region except Israel, where 43.99% of the population has had the third jab, Turkey (13.96%) and Cyprus (3.73%). In addition, 2,779 doses of the COVID booster, covering 0.05% of the population, have been administered in the Palestinian territories.

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 12:30 am Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.

CountryConfirmed CasesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Palestinian Territories419,6244,336403,86111,427
Saudi Arabia548,0658,770537,0952,200
United Arab Emirates738,9242,124732,7324,068



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