RIYADH: As Saudi Arabia implements a three-stage plan to introduce a return to normal life in less than a month, experts have urged citizens and residents to keep practicing social distancing, wear face masks in public settings and maintain hand hygiene among other precautionary measures.
The confidence behind the government’s move to relax the coronavirus lockdown stems not just from the hope that all sectors will abide by the officially recommended preventive protocols, but also from adequate stocks of essential commodities and protective items such as face masks, hand sanitizers and gloves.
There are an estimated 50 industrial units in the Kingdom that produce medical goods, along with seven factories dedicated to the development of respiratory devices. Each is doing its part to serve the country and its residents at a critical moment in history.
One of them is Enayah, Saudi Arabia’s largest manufacturer of medical masks and gowns and comprehensive medical packs. On any given day, the production lines at the Enayah factory in Riyadh hum with the noise of blue and yellow plastic sheets being turned by machines and skilled workers into surgical gowns and other medical products that meet international standards.
“We are producing medical products for the local market. We are also exporting to the GCC and Arab countries as well as to Europe through our foreign partners,” Abdel Hakim Al-Madhi, general manager of Enayah, told Arab News.
Enayah, which is making 250,000 comprehensive medical packs a week, has set for itself a production target of 800,000 gowns a week and a total of 10 million medical masks for the month of June.
“What we are seeing today is an abundance of goods and commodities in all markets, hypermarkets, stores and warehouses,” said Abdulrahman Al-Hussain, spokesperson for the Saudi Ministry of Commerce and Investment (MCI).
He said that unlike many other countries that ran into problems at the start of the crisis, the Kingdom’s markets did not experience any shortage or instability.
He attributed the situation to the crisis and contingency plans put in place by the Saudi government, especially the MCI and its partners, who worked with a clear purpose and focus to produce such an outcome.
“Consumers are satisfied. Consumer confidence in Saudi Arabia is ranked first in the world and surpasses the levels of more than 35 international economies,” Al-Hussain told Arab News.
“The adequate levels of supplies that we have witnessed during this crisis are the result of rationing.”
Al-Hussain said that Saudi consumers can rest assured about goods and commodities in stock — “availability is of the highest levels in the Middle East” — but urged shoppers to be moderate in their consumption.
“As we always say, what exceeds your need is a need for someone else,” he told Arab News.
“Consumers, be they citizens or residents, are satisfied that products and commodities are in abundance. There is no reason to buy more and overconsume. I will always recommend consuming in moderation.”
Between March 1 and mid-May, MCI teams conducted more than 153,878 field inspections, which detected 14,096 violations and resulted in instant fines being applied to the violators, Al-Hussain said.
Over the same period, the MCI responded to 119,830 electronic-service requests as part of its effort to assist the business sector.
It also received 170,979 calls and inquiries at its business sector call center, established 481 initiatives for businessmen to mitigate the effects of the crisis (“our merchants are benevolent”), and enabled the production of 19 million medical masks and 210 tons of sterilizer.
The MCI has seized products from price offenders and reintroduced them to the market at fair prices.
“The inspections have proved that there is an abundance of basic and consumer goods. Price violations have dropped by more than 60 percent so far,” he told Arab News.
“There is overall price stability. The MCI is dealing with the issue rigorously and strictly.
“Consumer rights have always been a red line that cannot be crossed. There is an electronic system in the MCI that has more than 116 products whose prices are monitored. If there is a price violation, it will be immediately detected.”
Addressing the situation in a broader context, Al-Hussain said: “We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an economic crisis in all countries. I think that one of the main pillars of the Kingdom’s vision is the private sector and commercial establishments.
“Government agencies have provided financial packages of more than SR170 billion ($45 billion) to mitigate the effects of this pandemic.
“These packages — provided by the Ministry of Finance, the Monetary Agency and the Ministry of Human Resources — were in the form of an exemption or postponement of the payment of some government fees.
“They were given in the form of loans, in the form of supporting local content, in the form of supporting the salaries of Saudis working in private-sector facilities. Everything that arises again will be dealt with as needed.”
According to Al-Hussain, the incentives provided by the government to ensure a stable market have benefited a total of 9,000 factories, about 3,000 of which have been working at full production capacity to provide food and pharmaceutical products needed by the market.
Meanwhile, online shopping has soared by 400 percent over a two-month period, resulting in delivery hiccups. Some consumers have complained of shipping delays as some vendors have been unable to run normal commercial operations during curfew hours.
As e-commerce sorts out its logistical problems, Saudi retail stores and shopping malls are reopening their doors to the public, albeit with strict rules in place.
Children under the age of 15 are not allowed entry into commercial retail centers. The elderly and people with chronic illnesses (of the heart, lung or kidney) and immunity-related conditions are being advised to stay at home.
Shoppers must undergo temperature checks at the entrance to stores, with those showing readings higher than 38C being transferred to the nearest medical center. They are also being asked to maintain two meters from each other, wear face masks and gloves, avoid product testing, and not be accompanied by more than one person.
As Saudi Arabia eases lockdown restrictions, resumes domestic flights and allows prayers in mosques, the vital contribution of those ensuring a seamless supply of medical disinfection and hygiene products to meet domestic demand is being tacitly acknowledged.
Among them is Avalon Pharma, the Kingdom’s largest manufacturer of sanitizing lotions. Production has been bumped up to 50 tons per day — twice the pre-coronavirus crisis rate of 25 tons per day — at the company’s factory in Riyadh’s Industrial City.
The production lines at Avalon Pharma could not have been busier when Arab News visited the premises on a recent weekday. Separate teams were weighing and preparing chemical components, monitoring the manufacturing process, and labelling the bottles filled with the lotion before placing them in cartons.
“We have been exporting our products to other countries — neighboring states, including those in the GCC bloc. We have also been exporting to the Arab countries of North Africa,” Dr. Rasheed Al-Rasheed, the factory director, told Arab News.
“But since the coronavirus crisis started, we have been focusing on the local market.”