Saudi Arabia Resumes Normal Life, Economy Gets a Boost

As pandemic restrictions fade, Saudi businesses look forward to better days ahead
The Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia operated at full capacity on October 17, with worshippers praying shoulder-to-shoulder for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. (Image: AFP)
Worshippers praying shoulder-to-shoulder in Mecca's Grand Mosque as virus curbs are lifted.

“We are now welcoming our customers with full capacity, who don’t have to wait for long to get a table. The number of our tables has doubled. The restaurant manager told me we might hire more people once we make sure that COVID-19’s precautionary measures are gone…forever, of course”, said Ameen, a waiter at a restaurant in Jeddah, western of Saudi Arabia.

With lifting of most of the restrictions imposed by the Saudi Authorities in the middle of current October, businesses are optimistic that the move will help them work more freely with full capacity, and that overcautious people will give up their fears and live their pre-COVID-19 life.

The Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madina have removed the physical distance signs on walls and floors. It won’t be long until elementary school students resume their actual classes, ending a couple of years of distance learning and online classes. The Riyadh Season, a huge entertainment festival with thousands of activities held in the Saudi capital, has been launched on the 20th of October without the social distance restrictions. Wedding halls are now allowed to hold celebrations with full capacity.

How would lifting the precautionary measures give a boost to the economy and normalize life?

GROWTH DRIVER

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Saudi economy was hit hard last year when oil prices dropped sharply and consumption rates fell dramatically with the closure of businesses. The GDP contracted by 4.1% and all sectors suffered from less demand or inability to go back to the pre-COVID-19 levels due to the strict rules of social distance that prevented businesses from operating in full capacity.

“I work in a company specializing in hotel furniture in Jeddah. There are investors, who started their hotel or furnished apartment business, but were afraid to continue. Last week, I signed a USD 50,000 deal to furnish a small hotel. The hotel owner put everything on hold from March 30, 2020 until the middle of October 2021, when the restrictions were completely lifted. I believe things are picking up. It is a new spirit after long months of uncertainty.”, said Abdullateef Adeeb, a hotel furniture sales manager, speaking to Majalla.

A couple of weeks ago, the IMF expected the Saudi economy to grow by 2.8% in 2021, rising from 2.4% that was predicted in July 2021. The government still expects the GDP to grow by 2.6%. The positive indicators of better business performance expectations, the historic non-oil exports at USD 33.41 bn in the first half of 2021, and oil prices that have almost doubled since the beginning of the year, all together herald a year full of economic recovery.

“When ordinary people and investors have confidence in the future, they spend more and consume more because they believe they will make more money. This simple rule is most applicable now”, added Abdullateef Adeeb. 

The advancement of the vaccination campaign has helped the Saudi government ease the restrictions. Over 45 million shots were given to people by the end of last week. With more immune people, the faster life goes back to normal.

Workers removed floor markings that guide people to social distance in and around the Grand Mosque, which is built around the Kaaba, (Image: AFP)

STRONGER SOCIAL TIES

Tens of thousands of people got married or celebrated their occasions without the attendance of their loved ones as they were afraid to get infected or because the law didn’t allow more than 20 people to get together. At restaurants, only five people were allowed to sit together even if they belonged to the same family. 
 

“My brother couldn’t have a big wedding party as he wished. Only 40 people attended his wedding, 20 men and 20 women separately. We were happy and wanted to invite more people, but the authorities are not tolerant with breaking the precautionary measures. My wedding is scheduled in the middle of December. I will invite all my relatives, friends, work colleagues, and everyone I know.”, said Abdul Aziz Hamoud, a private sector employee.

Masks are obligatory indoor, but they are not needed when outdoor. People have not seen the faces of each other for almost a couple of years.

 “My son was born in 2019. I am afraid he might have a social problem. He has only seen my face and his mother’s during 2020 and 2021 with very few exceptions as everyone wears a mask everywhere! I hope he can now interact with more people and grow socially”, said Abdulrahman Tawfeeq, an Arab expat living and working in Jeddah.

Easing the COVID-19 restrictions will have a positive impact on people’s social lives. Restaurants are allowed to seat 10 people together on the same table. The maximum number used to be five only. Some families couldn’t eat out. This has come to an end.
 

“Saudis and expats are back to their normal life. The life they knew before the pandemic. I am optimistic that it won’t take long until the world announces the end of COVID-19”, concluded Tawfeeq.


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