Fortunately for those who live there, Saudi Arabia was quick to close its borders and mandate masks and social distancing in response to the coronavirus. This, coupled with its recent vaccine mandate, has ensured that most of the population is fully vaccinated.
To help you find the most updated information on Saudi Arabia’s coronavirus response, including travel, mobile apps, and regulations, this article covers the following:
- COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia
- Coronavirus rules and measures in Saudi Arabia
- COVID-19 apps in Saudi Arabia
- Coronavirus testing in Saudi Arabia
- COVID-19 vaccinations in Saudi Arabia
- International travel during COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia
- Long COVID support in Saudi Arabia
- COVID-19 support for businesses in Saudi Arabia
- Education on coronavirus in Saudi Arabia
- COVID-19 support for vulnerable people in Saudi Arabia
Looking for expat-friendly health insurance in Saudi Arabia? APRIL International has a long history of providing health coverage tailored to the unique needs of the expat lifestyle, ensuring peace of mind for you and your family. Whether you're relocating to Saudi Arabia or simply staying short-term, APRIL International has the right policy for you.
COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia announced its first confirmed coronavirus case on March 2, 2020. Since then, the Kingdom’s response to COVID-19 has been strong. However, the effectiveness of these strategies has varied.
Saudi Arabia has had lower coronavirus rates than many Asian countries, such as India and Türkiye. At its peak in June 2020, it was averaging almost 4,000 cases a day. Fortunately, death rates in the Kingdom have remained low, with fewer than 10,000 reported deaths by December 2021.
Despite this, Saudi Arabia has a very high level of COVID-19. The Public Health Authority, alongside the Ministry of Health, manages the coronavirus policies in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Press Agency also makes relevant announcements, often through its Twitter Page.
Coronavirus rules and measures in Saudi Arabia
In the early months, Saudi Arabia’s coronavirus response to the pandemic was swift. For example, the government suspended all activities related to the Umrah pilgrimage on 4 March 2020. In fact, only 1,000 people were allowed to attend, instead of the usual two million. The Kingdom also closed its land borders with other Gulf countries on 8 March and halted all international flights on 13 March.
Soon after, mosques closed, government agencies shuttered, and public transport – including domestic flights – was suspended. On March 23, the government announced a national partial curfew. Masks became mandatory and public gatherings were banned. Movement between Saudi Arabia’s 13 regions also became restricted.
As Saudi Arabia’s coronavirus vaccine program accelerated, the government loosened certain restrictions, especially for fully vaccinated people. For instance, certain public, masked gatherings are allowed, while the mask mandate in outdoor settings has been suspended.
Private health insurance options
Given the heightened need for medical care in these COVID times, it is worth noting that private health insurance is mandatory in Saudi Arabia, and your employer should arrange this for you.
However, because employer insurance policies may only provide basic coverage, and not cover things like dental care, many expats choose to supplement it with more comprehensive private health insurance.
There are currently 26 health insurance companies operating in Saudi Arabia, and some of the biggest ones include APRIL International.
COVID-19 apps in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has developed several apps to help manage the pandemic. Below are some of the most popular ones.
- Tawakkalna – This app tracks your vaccination and quarantine status, and allows you to schedule covid testing. It functions as a vaccine passport, a communication method, and more. Many establishments throughout the Kingdom require patrons to show a clean bill of health through this app, before being granted admission into their building. Travellers must also download the app upon arrival in Saudi Arabia.
- Sehhaty – This platform allows people to book coronavirus tests and vaccine appointments. It also lets you book an appointment with your primary care doctor, track your steps, and scan for the closest pharmacy.
- Tetamman – This app provides coronavirus test results as well as important information for those who must isolate or quarantine after exposure. Symptom check ups as well as contact tracing are also available on the platform.
Coronavirus testing in Saudi Arabia
The PCR test is the most common, and most commonly accepted, test for coronavirus in Saudi Arabia. Carried out by a nasal swab, results usually become available within 24 to 72 hours. You should use the Sehhaty app to find the nearest public clinic where you can get tested. Notably, appointments booked through the app are free. However, to find private clinics that charge fees, you can visit this website.
Tetamman clinics specifically screen and treat people who have mild symptoms of coronavirus and who believe they may have had exposure to it. Tetamman clinics are dotted throughout the Kingdom, are free of charge, operate 24/7, and do not require an appointment. To find a clinic near you, check out this link.
What to do if you test positive for COVID-19
If you test positive for COVID-19, you should register your status in the Tawakkalna app. This is the most efficient way for you to track your symptoms and get the most up-to-date directives. Once you register, you should expect to isolate at home for ten days.
If you don’t develop any symptoms, you should complete your ten-day home isolation and continue using normal precautions.
Those with mild symptoms can visit a Tetamman clinic to speak to a clinician about their symptoms. However, if you have or develop severe symptoms, then you should seek medical care immediately. If you have questions or concerns about coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, feel free to call 937. Here, you can speak to someone about your symptoms and get 24/7 advice.
COVID-19 antibody tests in Saudi Arabia
Antibody tests check to see if a person has previously contracted the coronavirus. These tests are available in some parts of the Kingdom but are not widely sought after. Costs and availability will vary, so be sure to ask around in your expat circles for recommendations. Notably, there are some options in Riyadh and Jeddah.
COVID-19 vaccinations in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s coronavirus strategy now offers a variety of vaccines. The four available vaccines are Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, and Oxford/AstraZeneca.
The Kingdom has pushed a very aggressive vaccination campaign that culminated in a vaccine mandate not seen elsewhere in the world. Indeed, the mandate requires that all employees must show proof of vaccination to enter the workplace. It also requires all individuals to provide vaccination proof to enter all buildings, attend schools or events, or use public or air transportation.
Vaccination proof is provided through the Tawakkalna app, which also tracks your location through your phone. As of December 2021, more than 66% of the Saudi population was vaccinated. You can schedule vaccine appointments through the Sehhaty app.
International travel during COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia reopened its borders on 17 May 2021, and, since then, its travel guidelines have varied. The Saudi government now requires that all travelers to the Kingdom must have at least one round of vaccination. They must also have COVID-19 insurance and a negative PCR test which must be taken within 72 hours prior to departure.
Upon arrival, travelers must have a phone plan with internet for the duration of their time in the Kingdom. This is so they can download the Tawakkalna app, which is where they will receive all their quarantine and vaccination status updates. Notably, those arriving from some countries will also be required to institutionally quarantine. For the most up-to-date information on travel requirements, check out this website.
Long COVID support in Saudi Arabia
Long covid occurs when people who contract the coronavirus continue to experience symptoms of the virus for weeks or even months. These symptoms can be mild or severe.
While there are no clear numbers on how many people have suffered from long COVID in the Kingdom, the Saudi Health Ministry claims that anywhere from 10% to 30% of cases may turn into long COVID.
Unfortunately, there are no specialized clinics or health programs in the Kingdom that target long COVID patients. Instead, people experiencing it should seek guidance through their medical provider or the Tetamman clinics.
COVID-19 support for businesses in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s coronavirus measures include a number of regulations to ease the burden of the pandemic on businesses. To start with, the government announced a huge SAR 50 billion stimulus package directed at small and medium-sized businesses. These funds allowed banks to delay loan payments and to assist businesses in continuing operations and growth.
The Saudi government also agreed to pay 60% of the salaries of Saudi employees working in the private sector and suspended expat recruitment fines. Most recently, it began automatically extending residence permits without any fees, through to the end of 2021. Altogether, Saudi Arabia had a robust economic response. And when surveyed, 91% of entrepreneurs and 92% of established business owners considered the government’s economic response to the pandemic to be effective.
Education on coronavirus in Saudi Arabia
On 9 March 2020, all schools and universities in Saudi Arabia shifted to online learning. That week, the government began airing academic lessons on television to increase access for students. Nationally, schools remained closed for 18 months. Part of Saudi Arabia’s coronavirus response was the unveiling of the distance-learning Madrasati app. This allows parents to communicate with teachers, and schools to disseminate information and manage the curriculum, among other things. Conveniently, the Madrasati app also links to the parents’ Tawakkalna app.
In October 2021, the government announced that it would postpone the return of elementary school students to in-person learning. This was in response to elevated coronavirus numbers. Although distance learning was the safest response to the pandemic, relying exclusively on it did have certain challenges. These include a lack of socializing as well as physical activity.
If your child attends a public school, you should check the Ministry of Education website for the most up-to-date information. However, if they attend a private or international school, you should check with the individual school.
You can read more about the different types of schools in the Kingdom in our guide to the education system in Saudi Arabia.
COVID-19 support for vulnerable people in Saudi Arabia
In May 2020, the Ministry of Health published a guide on how to support vulnerable people during the coronavirus pandemic. Targeting people who may be immunocompromised, it was published through an educational platform called Live Well. The program provides multi-lingual information about prevention, symptoms, and available resources.