Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 15 July 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Life returns to Saudi Arabia as lockdown lifts

Barbers and shopping malls busy across kingdom as Saudis enjoy benefits of lifting restrictions

Saudis flocked to hairdressers, barbers and shops on Sunday as coronavirus lockdown measures were lifted across the kingdom.

Workers returned as offices, mosques, cafes, restaurants, movie theatres and gyms reopened after more than three months of measures to curb the spread of the virus, including nightly lockdowns.

Roads in Jeddah that had been eerily quiet for months sprang to life from 6am, with people venturing out of their homes to shop.

Cafes and restaurants in the city's popular Tahlia Street were full to capacity, with tables set farther apart than normal but often not the full mandated 1.5 metres.

Waiters wore masks and gloves, offering hand sanitiser to customers and checking temperatures.

Gyms and health clubs are increasing operations, welcoming fitness enthusiasts while touting how they have implemented local and government safety protocols.

Hundreds of people flocked to neighbourhood barber shops to trim their long locks or have a shave after 74 days of restrictions.

"The rush of customers was too much on the first day of reopening the shop on early Sunday," Turkish hairstylist Hussain Jovalan told The National at his busy salon in the city’s Salama district.

“We sent many of them away and told others to try their luck in another salon or make an appointment for another day, rather than waiting for their turn here.”

Mr Jovalan said barbers had missed their busiest periods of Ramadan and Eid, so they were glad customers were returning.

Tough restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus came into force in March, including 24-hour curfews in most towns and cities.

Citizens and residents in all parts of the kingdom expressed relief but in careful and cautious ways.

In Makkah, Abdullah Ajhoori, owner of popular food truck Luqma Basha, said his and other businesses were working hard to ensure hygiene requirements were met.

“Thank God, I feel happy. Past times were difficult as opposed to now,” he told The National from his truck, parked in front of Al Hijaz Mall in Al Nuzhah.

“I hope caution will be practised in the next stage. The truck is sterilised periodically or every hour while adhering to the necessary measures of hygiene.”

Makkah was the only Saudi province to be kept under 24-hour lockdown throughout Ramadan, and has remained under a nightly lockdown since Eid, from 3pm to 6am.

"Maintain caution now that the ban has been lifted in all cities in Saudi, in accordance with the necessary health requirements. Most importantly wearing a face mask - medical or a cloth mask - leaving a safe distance of no less than two metres and maintaining social distancing and hand washing," said Makkah Health Ministry spokesman, Hamad Feehan.

"This return was based on several studies by the authorities concerning the return to normal life. We return to normal life but we return with caution."

Kamal Abdulqader, a renowned Saudi writer, urged the public to do their part.

“People need to take a step back and look at the position we’re in, and to recognise that the release from lockdown comes with responsibilities for all of us in the way that we choose to behave,” Abdulqader said.

“The virus is still threatening our lives. Therefore, I hope people will comply with the government's guidance or we could face another lockdown.”

Up to 75 per cent of the kingdom’s public sector employees were eligible to return to their offices from Sunday, but many are still concerned about the health implications and getting used to a corporate office culture again after the lockdown.

“Still, worries over hygiene will continue to top concerns as employees return to the workplace,” said Bandar Al Musalem, a government employee in Riyadh.

“Luckily, the government minimised the number of staff.”

Saudi Arabia announced 3,379 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, taking the total number of cases to 157,612.

More than 1,200 people have died from the disease in the kingdom.

Updated: June 22, 2020 01:12 PM

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