Coronavirus is separating families, says expat stuck abroad and growing concerns for elderly expats.
As of Saturday, there are 103 confirmed coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia. In response, the Kingdom has banned traveling for two weeks, leaving many expats without a way back.
Until this weekend, a window of 72 hours was open for expats and Saudi residents to return to their homes, but many have struggled to secure a flight amid the chaos. Ahmed Temsah, an Egyptian expat working in Jeddah, found himself stuck in Cairo after an urgent trip that could not be postponed.
“At first, we were asked to provide PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test results to confirm we’re virus-free,” he told Arab News.
The testing center, located at Cairo International Airport, received over 10,000 Egyptians who wished to be cleared in order to catch a flight to Saudi Arabia and return to their families and jobs.
“It was too crowded,” said Temsah. “I waited but the next day Egypt suspended flights as well, and I got stuck.”
Temsah is a supervisor who oversees payments, salaries and other HR-related tasks at a company in Jeddah. He said that this has put a halt to a lot of his responsibilities. “Many of us are far from the office now and some of our posts are solely dependent on us. We don’t have substitutes,” he said, expressing concern over the various payments that would be due, including bills, social insurance and VAT. “If there are delays in submitting them, are we going to be penalized?”
Temsah’s daughter, who had visited Saudi Arabia in the past few days, is now separate from him.
“She’s stuck at home, all alone. I’m worried about her and she’s worried about me. Many families are in the same situation. I just hope things get back to normal soon, and I pray for everyone’s recovery,” he said.
Al-Tayyar travel agent, Rashid Siddiqui, has also been held back in India on a short visit. He described the situation as “painful” and expressed his relief at securing a return flight to Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Those who have returned to the Kingdom in the past few days are to remain at home in quarantine for 14 days and can use the application Sehaty to obtain medical leave.
Many expats found themselves stranded with visas approaching expiration and contacted the Saudi General Directorate of Passports via Twitter with concerns regarding their entry/exit permits. @AlJawazatKSA reassured them with the following statement: “We will soon announce the necessary procedures to deal with all cases that have been affected by the precautionary measures to combat coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, expats are encouraged to contact the necessary parties and check their Absher accounts regularly for updates.
New coronavirus measures
The measures / advice just announced and in place until at least March 31 are as follows:
1. Work from home as much as possible or spread your hours out.
3. If you have a cold or any other symptoms, stay home.
4. If your symptoms get worse and you have a fever, call your GP.
5. Universities are advised to put lectures online.
6. MBO, primary and secondary schools will stay open.
7. Children who are sick should stay home.
8. Avoid large groups or visiting people with compromised immune systems and the elderly.
9. For vulnerable people (elderly/ sick), avoid public transport.
As the numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases increase in Cyprus daily, Paphos’ largely elderly expat community have two main concerns: they are among the most vulnerable and yet they also travel more than most.
A local official told the Sunday Mail that she is aware of a number of British expats that have travelled to the UK then on to northern Italy, holidayed there and returned to the UK and then back to Cyprus.
“It’s worrying, they had no idea of the need to self-isolate on their return and this would probably not have been picked up at the time by immigration, as their flight would have come in from the UK,” Cathi Delaney, a Tala councillor said.
As there is an ageing expat population in the area, residents are concerned about the Covid-19 outbreak, as many either have an underlying medical complaint or live with or care for someone with an underlying or existing medical complaint, she said.
“People are trying to do what they can to be safe, but at the same time feel that the media has induced some panic. Whilst coronavirus is serious. There are many thousands of deaths over the course of a year due to other illnesses.”
Tala residents’ immediate concerns are centred on whether to travel to the UK or elsewhere to see family and friends especially as friends and family from abroad can no longer visit them.
Many had long-haul holidays booked, cruises among them. As cruise ships can be a hot bed for spreading the virus, the immediate concern is cancellation and whether refunds will be given.
“Personally, I am practising vigilant hand washing and staying away from crowds, as far as it is possible to do so. Many people are choosing to stay at home and only travel locally when essential.”
Justen Karlsson, founder of the Lysos and District First Responders, provides a service where a first aider gives treatment to a patient at the scene while waiting for paramedics or a doctor to arrive. Karlsson is an advanced first aider with decades of experience with the St Johns Ambulance charity in the UK.
He has just purchased a number of items including, disposable surgical gloves and charcoal laden face masks, to help to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Normal paper masks are not much good as the moisture in your breath makes the mask moist and this moisture is where the air-born virus will form and stick,” he said.
He is also awaiting enclosed eye glasses to guard against moist droplets created and expelled by sneezing or coughing and has purchased sanitising wipes and fluids for equipment.
In addition, a doctor serving at Polis hospital,the patron of the initiative, is advising the volunteers about Cyprus ministry of health updates on the Covid-19 spread.
“This is vital to us so we can give our community the best care and attention,” he said.
The first responder believes that Cyprus has made a good start in trying to limit the spread of the virus.
“The minute you have an outbreak, you have to take action to contain the spread. I know it’s causing pain for some at the moment, but limiting gatherings indoors and health checks on travel are a really good thing.”
He added that people shouldn’t panic buy and that hand sanitiser needs to be 70 per cent alcohol based.
Lou Cunningham of Blevins Franks, tax and wealth management advisers to UK national living in Cyprus, usually meets with clients on a daily basis. He lives in Paphos with his family.
He is not making any major changes to his usual routine in the wake of the virus outbreak, although said he is washing his hands more frequently and is aware of others coughing.
But he is contacting clients and offering them the chance to postpone appointments or have telephone discussions, if they wish. He added that 50 per cent still want to meet, the rest postpone or opt for telephone meetings.
“I understand the government’s response and feel that it is appropriate. Cyprus and the rest of the world will face short term hardship, but I do not expect the situation to deepen greatly from here, and I expect Cyprus to recover quite quickly, compared to other countries,” he said.
Peyia councillor Linda Leblanc has been limiting her contacts with people for the last two weeks in anticipation of a coronavirus outbreak in Cyprus. Neither has she been taking personal meetings during this time.
Leblanc also wore a high-grade mask to the last Peyia council meeting and is rarely leaving the house. Her husband, whilst fit, is 96 years old and Leblanc said she is looking out for the health of both of them by taking certain ‘common sense’ measures.
“I don’t think Cyprus is really prepared. We don’t have a proper quarantine area, the designated space in the Troodos is not equipped for such things.”
People travel a lot, especially those living in Paphos as it has such a large British expat population and they haven’t been taking precautions until now, she said.
“The thing is not to panic as that doesn’t help, but don’t underestimate this virus either. People should restrict activities and reduce potential exposure, eat well, keep healthy and keep the immune system operating properly.”
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