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Saudi Arabia suspends entry from 20 countries including Pakistan

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia: Saudi authorities have banned expatriates from travelling to the Kingdom from 20 countries to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Exceptions to the ban, which begins at 9:00 pm on Wednesday, are diplomats, and medical staff and their families.

Travel will be banned from the UAE, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey, as well as the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Japan.

The ban also applies to travellers who transited through any of the 20 countries in the 14 days before a planned visit to the Kingdom. Many passengers had been using Dubai as a transit hub from countries where there are no direct flights to Saudi Arabia, an option that is now no longer available.

The new action comes amid a global surge in cases of Covid-19 linked to variations in the original coronavirus, first detected in England, South Africa and Brazil, and fears that vaccines being rolled out worldwide may be less effective against them.

Britain began door-to-door testing of 80,000 people on Tuesday to stem the spread of the highly infectious South African variant, and there has been an increased spread of the English variant in Sweden.

Health officials in Saudi Arabia warned this week that stricter measures would be necessary to curb the spread of the virus if the public continued to flout regulations on social distancing and a ban on large gatherings. Saudi Arabia reported 310 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, almost four times the number a month ago.

Flights to and from the Kingdom were first suspended on March 14, 2020, two weeks after the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus outbreak was a pandemic. Entry to Saudi Arabia by air, land and sea resumed on January 3.

The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia also wrote a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“This includes those coming from other countries if they passed through any of the above-mentioned states within 14 days before requesting entry to the kingdom. However, the kingdom would like to ensure uninterrupted supply chains and shipping movement between the kingdom and these countries in accordance with the precautionary measures determined by the Saudi Ministry of Health,” the letter read.

“The entry of Saudi nationals, diplomats and health practitioners along with their families coming from any of the mentioned countries, or passed through within (14) days, is permissible but they have to follow the precautionary measures and [standard operating procedures] adopted by the Saudi Ministry of Health.

“The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia would like to avail itself of this opportunity to renew to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan the assurances of its highest consideration,” the letter concluded.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) said Saudi authorities had once again banned arrival of passengers from Pakistan in the wake of a new wave of coronavirus.

Prior to the ban, the PIA flights were operating as usual from Sialkot to Dammam, Multan to Madina and Islamabad to Riyadh. The spokesman said two PIA flights — from Karachi to Jeddah and Lahore to Madina — were currently in operation.

However, the PIA would continue flights to bring back passengers from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, the spokesman said.

The restrictions come after Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah warned on Sunday that new coronavirus restrictions could be imposed if citizens and residents do not comply with health restrictions.

Saudi Arabia has reported more than 368,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 6,400 deaths, the highest among Gulf Arab states.

Daily infections dipped below 100 in early January, from a peak of nearly 5,000 last June. However, new daily infections have tripled since then, with 310 cases reported by the health ministry on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign on December 17 after receiving the first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.