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The Human Rights Implications Of COVID-19

COVID-19 has given us a surprising glimpse at the current status of human rights. Some nations are generally perceived as human rights leaders, while others presumably fall to the bottom of the list. Yet, how accurate are these perceptions? In responding to this unprecedented crisis, many countries have faltered and are still scrambling to contain the virus, while some have successfully met the challenge. New Zealand just marked 100 days with no coronavirus community spread. Remarkably, another country leading the pack is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In a recent interview with Fox News, President Donald Trump claimed the US has the lowest COVID-19 mortality rate, yet a study conducted by John Hopkins University was displayed that shows Saudi Arabia ranks best. ( This study coincides with the tremendous efforts exhausted in the Kingdom to combat the coronavirus. Since the onset of COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has taken swift action and implemented exemplary people-centered policies. 

For example, the right to food and the ability to provide basic needs for oneself and family is the cornerstone of our existence. As countries began to face shortages of food and everyday essentials, the Saudi Arabian government swiftly enacted policies and procedures to ensure that resources and stability were maintained in the Kingdom. To monitor supply, the Ministry of Commerce mandated periodic visits to stores and warehouses. These visits were recorded and released to the news and social media outlets to provide assurance that goods were in place. The government also took a firm stance against price gouging. An App was launched that allows consumers to file complaints against illegal business practices and stiff penalties were implemented to deter any attempted manipulation of prices or supply. These proactive measures allowed Saudi Arabia to successfully maintain food supply, eliminate price gouging, and curtail widespread panic and fear. 

The Saudi government also took measures to address economic concerns and to aid in the global fight against COVID-19. In quick succession, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Finance released mandates to ensure the country’s economic stability and to provide assistance to those in need. First, guarantying full salary and benefits for all government employees and sixty percent for those working in the private sector. Banks were ordered to suspend loan payments to first responders and military personnel, and free housing was provided to health professionals who desired separate living accommodations or wished to remain near medical facilities. A $40 billion stimulus was passed to support small and medium-sized businesses, which allows for continued payment to employees, postponement of taxes, and exemptions from government fees. Additionally, the Crown Prince pledged the country’s commitment to the global fight against the coronavirus and has donated over $500 million in relief aid to international organizations. 

As COVID-19 numbers surged major issues arose such as, who is afforded treatment and if there is proper testing. However, Saudi Arabia took groundbreaking steps to eliminate these concerns. First, by purchasing 14.5 million diagnostic tests, which is the largest contract for coronavirus tests in the world. Additionally, a free-access-for-all healthcare policy was implemented. This policy stipulates that all citizens, residents, and also those in the country illegally are eligible to receive free coronavirus treatment. A mass testing initiative encourages anyone residing in the Kingdom that is exhibiting virus symptoms to call a 24-hour hotline where trained professionals are available to provide assistance. If relevant symptoms are present, medical field teams are dispensed to the resident’s home to administer the coronavirus test for free. Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s Director-General, encouraged other nations to follow, and thanked the Crown Prince for his leadership and commitment to ensure everyone has access to the health services needed to fight COVID-19. (

Disproportionate access to healthcare, economic crises, and inadequate resources all reflect human rights abuses many have endured in the face of COVID-19. At the heart of human rights is how a nation treats its people. Many countries have fumbled or exhibited a lackluster response to COVID-19. However, like New Zealand, the Saudi government provided unwavering guidance. Saudi Arabia demonstrated the importance of protecting its number one resource, its people. In doing so, it has emerged as a human rights leader, equipped with progressive leadership and unrivaled human-focused policies. 

Dr. Assel Aljaied

I received a S.J.D. at Wake Forest University School of Law. I am a law professor at the Institute of Public Administration, a columnist for Al-Watan, Elaph, and Sabq News, and a legal commentator with Al Ekhbariya TV, BBC News Arabic, and Alhurra TV.

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