Celebration is not a word anyone would associate with 2020, the year COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill. Since it was declared a pandemic in March, the coronavirus has infected over 30 million people worldwide and taken the lives of nearly one million, and is expected to cost the global economy nearly $8.8 trillion.
Are there any positive sides to this catastrophe?
Only one that I can think of — it has forced us all to rethink our priorities and focus on what is important. So, as we celebrate Saudi National Day, perhaps it is worth remembering that this occasion was never about fireworks and festivities alone; the main idea was always to honor the sacrifices, struggle and pain endured by the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, and the brave men who fought alongside him until the country was unified.
On this National Day, therefore, Arab News honors the modern day “white army” of doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers who, since the beginning of this year, have fought — and are still fighting — to protect the Kingdom and all its citizens and expatriates from the deadly impact of COVID-19.
Many medical staff became infected with COVID-19 themselves. One of them, Dr. Nezar Bahabri, still recovering at home, told Arab News: “I experienced feelings that I had never felt before, but I’m a new doctor now.”
Thanks to Dr. Bahabri and his colleagues, and to the Saudi government’s rapid response and firm decisions, this virus was confronted not just in the Kingdom, but throughout the world.
As our coverage today makes clear, other countries hesitated or refused to take swift and decisive action, with dire consequences. But Saudi Arabia, home of Islam’s two holiest shrines, was quick to restrict access to mosques and to conduct a limited, symbolic Hajj.
With more than nine million pilgrims visiting the Kingdom for Hajj and Umrah last year, one can only imagine how the disease would have swept the planet further had the Saudi government not intervened. With an “R nought” (the metric used to measure the contagiousness of a pathogen) of between 2 to 5 people per infected person, the outcome would have been truly disastrous. “The WHO welcomed the decision of Saudi Arabia to protect pilgrims’ safety and promote regional and global health security,” Dr. Ibrahim El-Ziq, the World Health Organization’s country representative for Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.
Also, through its presidency of the G20 in 2020, Saudi Arabia worked closely with international partners to fund and support vaccine and treatment efforts across the world. The Kingdom ensured that citizens, expatriates and even illegal immigrants can obtain free medical care if needed. And the Ministry of Commerce redefined global best practice by guaranteeing the availability of food and medical supplies.
As Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the WHO’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, writes in Arab News today: “It has been impressive to watch Saudi Arabia responding with confidence and competence. Through a rigorous scientific approach, the authorities have been able to address the pandemic effectively and minimize risks to the population. This success testifies to the strength and solidity of the Saudi health system, the resilience of the Kingdom’s infrastructure, and the efficiency of years of planning by its leadership.”
As today’s special edition of Arab News illustrates, despite the challenges, we have so much to be proud of and grateful for. Happy National Day, may you all continue to be safe, and may we all celebrate in happier times next year!
• Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Arab News