Saudi Arabia’s digital investments have eased coronavirus burden, says World Bank

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Saudi Arabia’s investments in digital infrastructure have eased the burden of coronavirus lockdown measures, the World Bank said in a blog post Monday.

The Kingdom has invested heavily in its digital infrastructure, both physical and virtual, in recent years as part of its Vision 2030 plan to reform the economy for a post-hydrocarbon age. The World Bank reports that 91 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population already has access to fast 4G mobile broadband, with three million homes also connected to fixed broadband.

“Leveraging two decades of continued investment in modern digital infrastructure and robust digital government platforms, the country’s digital capabilities have provided a solid foundation for key aspects of the COVID-19 emergency response, including continued access to various e-government services,” Dr Zaki Khoury, a senior digital development specialist at the World Bank said in the blog post.

Internet speed has been increasing in the Kingdom, maintaining a “relatively high speed” of 59.24 megabits per second despite a rise in demand as people remain home, Khoury said.

Khoury in particular pointed to the Kingdom’s e-government programs, including Yesser, Mawid and Absher, as examples of success, noting that the government’s main online portal has managed to maintain reliable access to over 900 different government services despite a surge in traffic after a national curfew was put in place.

Schools utilize new tech

Schools have also remained shut in Saudi Arabia as a measure to combat the spread of the coronavirus. In its place the iEN national education portal has become the main channel for education of more than six million users.

“An upgrade to the education digital platform has been complemented by an extended campaign for the provision of 30,000 devices to students in need, help ensure inclusion of all students and access to more than 100,000 interactive digital educational hours for undergraduate students,” Khoury wrote.

The service has continued operating despite the lockdown resulting in 10 times more people accessing the service than before.

“Saudi Arabia’s government is showing digital agility in addressing the COVID-19 crisis and continues its efforts to strengthen national resilience. Resilience, combined with agility, will be the new focus for digital government as countries emerge from the COVID-19 crisis,” he added.

This focus will allow Saudi Arabia, and other governments that follow similar strategies, to “reap rewards from such digital capabilities in the future,” Khoury concluded.

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