JEDDAH: The generous Saudi spirit has been sorely missed because of COVID-19 restrictions. Weddings, social gatherings, and parties had capacity limits, at times they were banned altogether, due to the spread of the disease.
For the longest time, people felt what functions they were able to have were lifeless and lacking their usual energy because of the cap on numbers and other anti-coronavirus measures.
But with more than 20 million people fully vaccinated and the Kingdom’s immunization campaign continuing at pace, not to mention an Interior Ministry announcement of a change in the rules, gatherings and get-togethers will be making a comeback after more than 18 months of curbs and lockdowns.
The ministry said on Friday the decision was based on the recommendation of health authorities, with precautionary measures on attendance, face masks and social distancing changing from this Sunday, Oct. 17.
There was a sigh of relief from retired school principal Hamid Sadiq Al-Bakri upon hearing the announcement. He had already prepared everything for his son’s wedding party — with a limited number of guests — set to be held next week at one of Jeddah’s wedding halls.
“I feel I’m on top of the world after hearing this decision as it means that my country has succeeded in confronting the unseen enemy of coronavirus,” he told Arab News. “It also means that residents and citizens have been big supporters of the great efforts exerted by the government to mitigate the effects of the pandemic to the least possible levels.”
He said the decision would save him the embarrassment of inviting just a few close family members and even closer friends, as he could now invite as many people as he wanted to help him celebrate such a special occasion.
“We in Saudi Arabia feel happier when all friends and relatives attend our parties and social gatherings. The more guests we receive, the happier we are. The Arabic proverb says: ‘Paradise without people is not worth going to.’ Those who are keen to be with you at your best are those who truly appreciate you.”
Salem Al-Zahrani’s daughter married eight months ago and he had been distraught to see so few relatives attending the wedding.
“If it weren’t for the pandemic and the restricted numbers issued by the authorities, I would have invited over a hundred of my friends and relatives to attend my daughter’s wedding,” he told Arab News. “It is part of our culture that a bride is taken to her husband-to-be accompanied by as many relatives as possible. It is a source of pride to the young girl.”
He said he was lucky that his daughter was wise enough to understand the complexity of the global situation.
“The social fabric of the Saudis is very strong, and that is why we usually see big numbers celebrating a social event. During a wedding party, hosts normally offer the best food they can to honor the family of the girl and those invited.
“With the end of the restriction, Saudis will rejoice and get back to their normal social gatherings during which they can freely gather and happily rejoice. I’m certain they will be careful about their health.”
Face masks will no longer be mandatory in outdoor settings, except for certain specific locations including the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
Social distancing will no longer be mandatory at social gatherings or in public settings including transport, restaurants, and cinemas. Wedding halls will also be allowed to return full capacity.
The new rules only apply to those who have been fully vaccinated, which is around 20.6 million people.