Various countries worldwide have prohibited international travel in recent months to minimize the spread of coronavirus. Saudi Arabia is among these, having initiated a two-week suspension last month. Today, the kingdom has re-opened its borders to international travelers.
On and off suspensions in Saudi Arabia
The suspension of international travel due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis is not a new phenomenon in Saudi Arabia. It first elected to do so last March, as the spread of the virus around the globe accelerated. In this instance, the kingdom suspended most international flights in and out of the country for an initial fourteen-day period. By this time, it had already banned pilgrimages to the Islamic holy city of Mecca.
However, it did make certain exceptions for Saudi citizens, and domestic travel initially remained unimpacted. The exceptions included humanitarian and medical emergencies, as well as repatriation flights. Despite the suspension’s initial international focus, Saudi Arabia ultimately decided also to suspend domestic services on March 21st. The kingdom eventually lifted this domestic suspension in May.
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Later in the year, its international suspension moved away from a blanket ban, favoring a more targeted approach. In September, this saw flights from Argentina, Brazil, and India be banned. The latter of these had a particularly large impact, as thousands of Indians live and work in Saudi Arabia.
Resumption of international travel
According to Gulf News, Saudi Arabia having commenced another two-week suspension of international travel on December 20th. At this time, Emirates and Etihad had also canceled their flights to the kingdom. The suspension came to an end this morning, at 11:00 local time, as of which air and seaports can once again facilitate international travel.
That is not to say that measures to minimize the spread of coronavirus are no longer in place. The majority of international travelers entering Saudi Arabia will still have to quarantine for seven days. Alternatively, they may exit quarantine after three days if they take a PCR test which produces a negative result.
Precautions against the new strain
However, countries that have been affected by the new, mutated strain of coronavirus will be subject to stricter measures. Passengers from countries with recorded cases of the new strain will be unable to ‘test out’ of quarantine until the sixth day of their isolation period. They will also be kept “under observation” during this time.
However, for countries such as the United Kingdom and South Africa, where the mutated strain is more widespread, passengers must essentially quarantine in a location between there and Saudi Arabia. Specifically, the kingdom stipulates that:
“…any foreign passenger who [wishes] to enter Saudi Arabia from the United Kingdom, South Africa, [or] any other country determined by the Ministry of Health, must spend at least 14 days outside the country impacted with the mutated virus before entering the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia].”
On the whole, the resumption of international flights represents a step back towards normality for Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the kingdom remains pro-active in retaining measures to minimize the spread of coronavirus. However, the presence of a new strain (and the strictness of measures concerning countries where it is widespread) suggests that ‘normality’ as we knew it is still some way off yet.