The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia decided to tighten the screws on skeptics about the Coronavirus vaccine, and to prevent them from Hajj and travel abroad, as well as access to universities, shopping centers and offices, which is a controversial incentive policy for vaccination.
Riyadh wants to revive tourism, sporting and entertainment events, sectors badly affected by the health crisis and necessary for the “Vision 2030” plan to diversify its oil-dependent economy.
Much to the discontent, Riyadh has only allowed pilgrims who have been vaccinated, or those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months, to perform the Umrah, which is the small Islamic pilgrimage that can be done throughout the year.
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A similar step should be taken during the annual big pilgrimage season, according to sources close to the government.
When the border reopened in May, only people who had been vaccinated or vaccinated were allowed to travel abroad.
The Kingdom also announced that vaccination will be compulsory from August to enter government and private institutions, including places of education and entertainment, as well as public transport. Only vaccinated employees in the public and private sectors will be able to return to their workplace.
These measures have led to criticism, especially on social media, with the hashtags “No to forced vaccination” and “My body is my choice”.
“You will no longer be able to do all of the following things (…) Travel! To work! Go to public places! Don’t even buy food! No study!”, Malicious Twitter user.
The Saudi measures contrast with the incentive policies of some countries such as the United States, where the media has reported cash rewards, baseball tickets and even free beer to encourage vaccinations.
“A monarchy like Saudi Arabia can set such principles, and it may be effective in pushing those who do not want to be vaccinated,” Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, told AFP. However, it can be considered coercive. “
Other governments in the region have taken similar steps. In the United Arab Emirates, Dubai reported in May that unvaccinated people would not be able to attend sporting events and concerts.
Bahrain said last week it had temporary restrictions, only allowing access to shopping malls, restaurants, cinemas and beauty salons for those with immunity.
In Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE, citizens launched a campaign on social media to condemn “compulsory vaccination.”
But Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy, appears determined to move forward, as it gears up to host high-profile events to soften its ultra-conservative image.
ESPN reported in April that Riyadh had offered a record sum of over $ 150 million to stage a boxing match between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua this year.
The kingdom is also set to host an investment summit in October, and its first Formula 1 Grand Prix in December.
“Vaccinations are essential to revive the country’s economic engine as quickly as possible,” said Robert Mogielnicki of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
A high vaccination rate will aid strategic non-oil industries such as tourism. “Saudi officials want to ensure that the party continues with more concerts and cultural events,” he adds, referring to the kingdom’s recent hard-line openness to entertainment.
But how Riyadh intends to vaccinate the bulk of its population before August remains unclear.
The Ministry of Health says it has already administered more than 12 million doses in the country of 34 million people.
But in the face of a shortage, it has delayed the administration of the second doses to many residents despite an increase in infections. The country has officially recorded more than 440,000 cases and 7,200 deaths.
Authorities are reluctant to tolerate the hesitation that, as in other countries, is fueled by disinformation but also by concerns about the unrecognized long-term effects of vaccines.
“There is not much room for personal options that contradict the Saudi Vision 2030 plan,” Mogielnicki said.