Saudi Arabia, Qatif, Coronavirus, COVID-19
Source: NASDAQ

In an effort to restrict the further spread of the novel coronavirus on its land, Saudi Arabia has suspended all private sector work with the exception of health and food services for a period of 15 days. 

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development announced that private-sector employees should not be working from their firm's offices for the next two weeks. In cases where office presence is mandatory, employees who do come in cannot exceed 40 percent of the total number of workers at the firm's headquarters. If more than 50 people must be present, a check-in point will be required at the entrance where temperatures will be taken and COVID-19 symptoms will be assessed (if there are any). 

The ministry has advised firms to activate remote work procedures to limit the spread of the pathogen. 

Some exceptions

The ministry's recent decision will be applied to all firms in the private sector with the exception of vital infrastructure companies for electricity, water, and communications. Establishments that provide such utility services to governmental bodies must reach out to the agencies involved prior to making a decision in that regard. 

Health and food sector employees as mentioned before are also exempt from these rules. 

As for workers who are over 55 or pregnant, suffer from respiratory or immunodeficiency diseases, or are cancer patients must be granted a 14-day compulsory leave. 

The new rules are an adaptation to guidelines released on Monday by the ministry in the kingdom. The guidelines previously did not lay out the grounds for remote work and office time. Instead, it mentioned that if an employee is asked to go to the office, they are obliged to do so. 

What about the public sector?

On March 15, Saudi Arabia announced the temporary suspension of government work and ordered public-sector employees to stay home for a period of 16 days. Those who work in health, security, and the military were exempted from the decision. The decision came into effect on March 16. 

The kingdom also announced the closure of malls, restaurants, coffee shops, stores, parks, and gardens. Only supermarkets, pharmacies, and food delivery companies will be allowed to operate normally during this period. 

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia also said mosques would no longer open for neither the customary daily prayers nor the Friday congregations. 

The country has also suspended all international flights - starting March 15 and effective for two weeks - to contain the outbreak.

Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia

At the time of writing, there is a total of 171 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom reported its first coronavirus case on Feb. 24 and has been taking serious precautions to reduce the number of infections across the board. However, the decisions have been hurting Saudi Arabia from an economic standpoint. 

Saudi Arabia and several other Arab countries have seen their economic growth drop due to the virus' outbreak. The disease is negatively affecting the demand for oil and consequently shaking oil-dependent economies across the Gulf. 

Early on, Saudi Arabia suspended entry for the Umrah pilgrimage to prevent the virus from spreading. This is especially noteworthy since Saudi Arabia relies heavily on its religious tourism sector.  

The kingdom had also taken decisions to block entry of travelers coming from nations with confirmed cases of the virus. It had also suspended flights to several countries last month and took further action recently to block all international flights.