So much has been aired on television, on social media, and in print that it is next to impossible not to be aware of the pandemic raging across the globe in the form of a new coronavirus.
Thought to originate in China, the virus has not spared our part of the world as cases of individuals struck down by this virus have been reported on the increase and governments across the GCC have taken drastic measures to combat the spread of the disease (Covid-19).
Saudi Arabia has witnessed a climb in the numbers of those affected by Covid-19, with the health authorities reporting 24 new cases, raising the number of cases in the country to 86 (as of Friday). Eleven foreign nationals are among the people who contracted the virus according to the data published by the Health Ministry.
In addition to closing down schools to avoid the further spread, Saudi Arabia has also taken the measure to temporarily suspend the travel of citizens and expatriates and has suspended flights to all EU member states and Switzerland, in addition to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia.
As in the rest of the Gulf, there have been daily announcements in the form of television broadcasts and mass texting from the authorities imploring residents of the country to take all necessary precautions and avoid crowds. The authorities have been isolating infected persons and those who are in contact with them and taking other necessary preventive measures.
In recent days, social media is alight with messages by doctors and health experts who flatly state that it is best to stay put at home. Clerics have called upon those suspected of carrying the virus not to attend prayers at mosques including the obligatory Friday noon prayers. Mall traffic has been reduced drastically while supermarkets seem to be doing good business as people are stocking up on necessary supplies.
Home to Islam’s two greatest shrines, Saudi Arabia has recently witnessed an almost eerily deserted scene at the site of the two holy mosques.
Pictures of an almost empty courtyard around the Kaaba in Makkah, when at most other times the place is thronged with thousands of people, have even got some people talking about the second coming. Others have said that it is a sign from God, adding that it is His displeasure at how humanity has behaved in spite of the bounties He had bestowed.
It’s not just the holy shrines that seem deserted. Even the city roads have become a joy to drive on as traffic has trickled down with schools being shut and many people opting to lock down and stay at home. While I understand the gravity of the pandemic and take all necessary precautions, I do find myself out and about much to the apprehension of my family who insists that I stay put at home.
And in my outings, I have run across many people with differing opinions on the coronavirus and how best to tackle it. Talking to one of the baristas at a coffee shop, I asked him why he did not see it necessary to wear a face mask to avoid any possibility of being infected. His answer was succinct: “It is all written. If God intends it, nothing I do will prevent the virus from striking me down.”
At a gas station, while filling petrol of my car, I noticed the attendant also without a mask. Upon asking him why, he replied, “Sir, I am a poor man and God spares the poor and destitute.” Fortunately, I had an extra face mask in the car which I handed over to him and made sure he put it on.
One thing quite not understood by some people about this virus is that its physical symptoms do not appear until 11 to 14 days after incubation as I understand it.
Plainly that means that even if a person next to you is not feverish or coughing or whatever, he is not necessarily free from the virus which could be incubating within the body and has not yet manifested itself physically.
It is perhaps for this reason alone that a total lockdown and stay-put scenario would be hard to imagine. People just don’t see it around them and drop their guard. And while I was out and about and musing on the effectiveness of face masks and washing hands, my thoughts were interrupted by a call from my wife who wanted to know why I was being reckless and exposing myself to the dreaded virus.
I was almost tempted to tell her that it is all written, before deciding otherwise and assuring her that I was on my way back.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.