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Abu Dhabi: Many Saudis are still haunted by COVID-19 anxiety even though restrictions have been eased, with life returning gradually to normal.

They received the announcement last month with mixed feelings of joy, fear, happiness and anxiety, and it was only hours until some dispensed with the mask and returned to normal life.

Saudis tried to attend gatherings such as group prayers, funerals, and wedding parties. But they were still reluctant to restore traditional greetings such as hugs, kisses and handshakes.

Mona Mohamed Fikret still refuses to hug her son, who has immunodeficiency and kidney failure, saying she does not want to lose him.

Although some time has passed since the precautionary protocols were lifted, she is still refraining from hosting her family.

“Yes, I need the life that I missed in almost two years .. It is true that I lived two exceptional years in which hugs, kissing and handshakes even with my son were absent .. During the pandemic, I lost my mum and how sad I was, because I was not even able to kiss her goodbye in the coffin .. the plague robbed me of the moments I couldn’t comprehend — stroking her hair when she was sick, holding her hand when she was dying and supporting my brothers at the burial when she was lowered into the ground,” Fikret told Al Watan.

“I lost my mum to the plague but I don’t want to lose my son,” she said.

Saudi Arabia eased COVID-19 restrictions from October 17, allowing gatherings and lifting some mask mandates for those who have received both vaccine doses.

Masks in open spaces are no longer mandatory for fully-vaccinated people, although members of the public must still wear them in closed spaces and areas that are not monitored by the Tawakkalna tracing app.

Social distancing regulations were also dropped and public places, transport, restaurants, cinemas, and other gatherings monitored by Tawakkalna were allowed to operate at full capacity once again for people who have received both vaccine doses.

Other rules that were dropped include a cap on visitors to Mecca’s Grand Mosque. Devotees who have received both vaccine doses were able to visit the mosque while wearing a mask and using the Umrah tracking app.

The same rules applied to the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

Events in wedding halls were allowed with no restrictions on attendance, although those involved must still comply with the remaining precautions including masks in closed spaces.

Noura Bint Mahfouz, a sociology graduate, said: “We missed some physical contact, such as hugs and handshakes, and even our children missed many beautiful habits such as kissing the heads of grandmothers and grandfathers, and kissing the hands of uncles and aunts.

“We also almost forgot the features of the smiles of many as a result of wearing masks,” Noura said.

The situation was different with Nadia Al Sharif, who said: “I received the news of lifting of the precautionary measures with indescribable joy, and my mother, who was over 80 years old, was the first thing that came to my mind at that moment. She was suffering from some diseases, so during the pandemic we all avoided embracing her, even kissing her hand. Tears of joy overwhelmed me, and as soon as I reached her, I fell into her arms, and took her in a long hug, which I missed so much.”

Psychologist Jamal Al Tuwairqi says that some people may need several months to return to physical contact, despite the return of normal life, and the lifting of precautionary measures.

Al Tuwairqi added: “There are several psychological and social effects that have been arranged and stabilised as a result of the isolation imposed by the pandemic, and getting rid of these effects, and returning to accepting physical contact takes time.”

This, he said, has been proven by a number of American and European research, and among these effects is an increase in depression, anxiety and tension, in addition to the increase in suicide cases in some countries as a result of isolation and the absence of social communication.

“The human being is by nature a social being, and previously they communicated on a number of different occasions, especially in our Islamic society through worship, customs and traditions, many of which have changed during the pandemic.”

He said: “There is a noticeable increase in cases of anxiety, tension and social phobia, which for some need months to subside and end, while some need psychological and medical treatment, such as physical sessions or drugs, to rehabilitate and return to a normal life.”