Staring down a rise in coronavirus cases that the health authorities have linked to the Omicron variant, Saudi Arabia will require people visiting stores, malls and restaurants to show proof of booster shots starting on Feb. 1.
The kingdom, as part of its effort to get its 35 million residents inoculated against the virus, already mandates proof of vaccination for those wishing to enter public places.
The move announced this week is an extension of a mandate the kingdom issued early this month when it said that starting in February, Saudi residents would no longer be considered fully vaccinated unless they had received a booster at least eight months after their second dose, and that they would need proof of a booster to enter government facilities, attend events and fly.
Citizens, residents and visitors are required to show scannable QR codes confirming their vaccination status through the government’s Tawakkalna app, which Saudi Arabia originally rolled out last year to help track coronavirus infections and has remade into a vaccine passport.
But the app can be buggy and difficult to register for. And as seen during a recent visit to Riyadh, the capital, and to Jeddah, the kingdom’s second-largest city, shops and cafes checked QR codes only sporadically.
On Sunday, a Commerce Ministry spokesman, Abdulrahman Al-Hussein, announced several measures intended to tighten enforcement, including doubling fines and shutting down noncompliant businesses. Establishments must also assign employees to monitor customers to make sure they are wearing masks and following other rules, he said.
The Saudi Health Ministry announced 602 new coronavirus cases and one death on Tuesday, up from 524 new cases on Monday and 389 on Sunday. The ministry’s spokesman, Dr. Mohammed Al-Abdel Ali, said at a news conference over the weekend that the rise in cases was linked to the Omicron variant, and he urged Saudis to get booster shots.
Saudi Arabia has fully vaccinated more than 23 million people, the Health Ministry said.
Cases are surging around the Middle East, with more countries beginning to require residents to show proof of full vaccination before entering public places or government buildings, including Tunisia, Egypt and Oman.