COVID 19: Saudi Customs’ experienceBy Adel Baraja, General Manager Marketing & Customer Experience
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was among the first countries to respond to the global COVID‑19 pandemic, adopting a series of measures designed to prevent the virus from spreading. Saudi Customs has followed the Government’s lead by imposing strict internal and external precautionary measures while developing an action plan to ensure that work continues at all land, sea and air borders to facilitate the steady flow of imports and exports and make essential goods available to all consumers.
Safety First Strategy
At the end of February 2020, a “Safety First Strategy” was adopted. It consisted of three phases: Before, During and After. Throughout the “Before” phase, which lasted only a few days, preventive and precautionary measures were implemented in order to ensure the safety of Customs employees in all sea and land ports. Directly before the country started recording infections on 2 March 2020, the “During” phase began with employees instructed at all times to refrain from direct contact with travellers and to wear protective equipment while performing their duties. Detailed instructions on how to protect themselves and others against the virus were sent via e‑mail and text message. In the “After” phase, Saudi Customs initiated an action plan designed to reduce the number of employees present in the workplace at any given time. A minimum staffing level on the front line and in Customs offices, deemed sufficient to perform all tasks which could not be done satisfactorily remotely, was established in cooperation with the relevant government agencies. This approach also required some staff members to be physically present. The goal was to ensure that stringent sanitization protocols were implemented across all facilities and that personal protective equipment (PPE) was provided to all workers. Saudi Customs also ensured that none of its employees entered the workplace without first having their temperature taken.
As a temporary measure, the Ministry of Health prohibited the export of all medical and laboratory products, medicines, supplies and equipment used in response to COVID-19. These included items such as protective clothing, medical equipment, full body medical coverall suits, protective glasses and face masks. To ensure transparency and traders’ compliance, Saudi Customs published the new rules on its website at www.customs.gov.sa.
Delaying payment of duties
To mitigate the financial and economic impacts of the crisis on the private sector, the Saudi Customs Administration gave all importers a 30-day grace period for the payment of Customs duties. In addition, importers had the option of requesting that Customs postpone the payment of Customs duties for certain categories of goods, and only importers considered as representing a high risk were asked to submit a bank guarantee in order to be eligible under the measure. This initiative was warmly welcomed, benefiting a total of 272 companies as of July 2020.
The National Dog Training Centre has achieved encouraging results with training detector dogs to identify traces of the COVID-19 virus on clothing. Jack Russell terriers were chosen for the job due to their intelligence, as well as the fact that they are small and can move easily among passengers. Saudi Customs has posted a video on its Twitter account and YouTube platform, explaining how the dogs were trained. The dogs will be deployed shortly in the country’s international airports.