Saudi Arabia holds first concert since pandemic’s outbreak
RIYADH - Hundreds gathered Thursday for the first concert in the Saudi capital since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to watch performances by Syrian diva Assala Nasri and Kuwaiti crooner Nabeel Shuail.
Before srict rules were brought in a year ago to stem the spread of coronavirus, the ultra-conservative kingdom had started to ease decades-long restrictions on entertainment, as part of efforts to improve its image and attract tourists.
“This is the first concert to take place in Saudi for a very long time,” said one spectator at the concert, held in a restaurant of a large Riyadh hotel.
“We are delighted to come from Kuwait to attend the concert,” said a Kuwaiti tourist.
Saudi Arabia has officially recorded more than 454,000 coronavirus infections, including 7,408 deaths.
It was not actually the first concert since the pandemic. Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli sang in April at the ancient Saudi city of Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Saudi Arabia has hosted international musicians, from Janet Jackson to 50 Cent and Korean pop group BTS, for concerts that were unimaginable in the conservative country just four years ago.
The pandemic put a brake on the country’s ambitious push to draw tourists. But Riyadh is now accelerating a nationwide vaccination drive as it moves to host sports and entertainment extravaganzas, all pandemic-hit sectors that are a bedrock of the “Vision 2030” programme to diversify the oil-reliant economy.
Earlier in May, Saudi Arabia began tightening the screws on vaccine sceptics, barring them from pilgrimages and overseas travel and blocking access to universities, malls and offices in a contentious effort to boost inoculations.
So-called anti-vaxxers threaten to jeopardise global efforts to beat the pandemic, health experts say, but Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, are cranking up the pressure on those refusing to get the jab.