Saudi Arabia eases travel ban for vaccinated citizens | Business and economic news

Vaccinated Saudis were allowed to leave the kingdom for the first time in more than a year on Monday as the country relaxed the ban on international travel aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus and its new variants.

Over the past 14 months, Saudi citizens have mostly been banned from traveling abroad over fears that international travel could fuel the outbreak of the virus in the country of more than 30 million people. The ban, in force since March 2020, particularly affected Saudi students studying abroad.

In recent months, however, the kingdom has vaccinated nearly 11.5 million residents with at least one COVID-19 vaccine, making them eligible to leave the country on Monday under the new guidelines. Authorities will also allow people who have recently recovered from the virus and minors under the age of 18 with travel insurance to travel abroad.

The relaxation of the rules prompted a rush of holidaymakers to leave the kingdom, following the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

“It’s a wonderful feeling after such a long absence from Bahrain,” said Mohammed, a Saudi traveling to the island nation.

Scanning measurements

Saudi travelers are required to show their medical condition to airport officials through the government’s health app, Tawakkalna. Travelers returning from abroad will need to self-quarantine at home and be tested for the virus.

The kingdom, which has covered coronavirus-related hospitalizations for citizens and residents, has imposed some of the most drastic measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the start of the pandemic. They include closing mosques and businesses for several weeks at a time, drastically reducing the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and sealing its borders to travelers.

Travelers flocked to Saudi Arabia’s airports on Monday for overseas flights.

“We’ve been confined to Arabia for about a year and a half, so we can hardly believe the ban is lifted and we can see the world,” said Nawaf al-Askar, a Saudi traveling from Riyadh to Bosnia. Herzegovina with his family. .

Other travelers were leaving to resume their studies abroad or for long-delayed business trips. “We dreamed [of travelling] for over a year… Thank God the airport has been open and we can escape, ”said Saleh, a resident of Riyadh.

A recent list of countries where direct or indirect travel remains limited, however, includes a number of high-risk countries, including Lebanon, Yemen, Iran, Turkey and India.

However, the Saudis will once again be able to travel to neighboring Bahrain via the King Fahd Causeway from Monday as the restrictions will be relaxed, according to local media. The small island nation where the sale of alcohol is legal under specific rules is a popular destination for Saudi residents and those looking for a short vacation.

The flagship airline of the kingdom Saudia will operate flights to 71 destinations, including 43 international destinations, from Monday. Among them are Cairo, Sharm el-Sheikh, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Athens, Frankfurt, Washington and New York.

With few exceptions, foreigners from 20 countries – including the United States, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and France – remain banned from entering the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has recorded more than 430,000 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic, including more than 7,160 deaths. Nearly 1,400 people remain in critical condition with the virus.

Although Saudi Arabia tourist visa holders remain barred from entry, the kingdom is aggressively marketing its sites to potential visitors.

At Dubai’s Arabian Travel Market this week, Saudi Arabia is heavily marketing its Red Sea coastline and heritage sites such as the Al-Ula Desert Ruins and Diriyah Fort outside Riyadh.

The kingdom opened to international tourism in September 2019, just a few months before the coronavirus epidemic.

About Eleanor Blackburn

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