Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced on Monday, March 9, that it will temporarily suspend travel by air and by sea to and from the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, South Korea, Egypt, Italy, and Iraq, due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. However, MOFA representatives said that exceptions will be made for shipping, trade, and evacuations between the Kingdom and these nine countries. Dozens of flights between the aforementioned countries and Riyadh's King Khalid International Airport (RUH) are canceled as of 06:30 (local time) on Monday. Further flight cancelations and rescheduling are possible in the coming hours and days.
Other travel restrictions remain in place since Wednesday, March 4, including requiring travelers from a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country to spend 14 continuous days there and show no symptoms of the virus in order to gain entry into Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, visas for tourists from dozens of countries where the Kingdom considers the spread of the virus to be a threat, including China, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, and Singapore, remain temporarily suspended since Wednesday.
To prevent further spread of the virus, authorities ordered a temporary lockdown of the eastern Qatif region, on Sunday, March 8, after 11 individuals from the area tested positive for the virus. All entry and exit into Qatif has been halted, and work at all government and private institutions has been suspended. The education minister announced on Sunday that all schools and universities nationwide will be suspended from Monday until further notice.
As of Sunday, the Health Ministry has confirmed at least 11 cases of COVID-19 nationwide. Further international spread of COVID-19 is to be expected over the coming days and weeks.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Human-to-human and patient-to-medical staff transmission of the virus have been confirmed. Many of the associated fatalities have been due to pneumonia caused by the virus.
Cases of the virus have been confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide. Virus-screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions. On February 28, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the risk of spread and the risk of impact of the virus is "very high" at the global level.
Pneumonia symptoms include dry cough, chest pain, fever, and labored breathing. Pneumonia can be contagious and can be transmitted from human to human. The influenza virus, or the flu, is a common cause of viral pneumonia.
Potentially impacted travelers are advised to monitor the situation, confirm travel itineraries, anticipate transport and business disruptions, and adhere to all instructions issued by local authorities and their home governments. To reduce the risk of transmission, travelers are advised to abide by the following measures:
To reduce the risk of transmission, travelers are advised to abide by the following measures:
- Frequently clean hands by applying an alcohol-based hand rub or washing with soap and water.
- When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; if used, throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands.
- If experiencing a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical care urgently and share your previous travel history with your health care provider.
In the case that symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness emerge either during or after travel, travelers are encouraged to seek medical attention and share their travel history with their health care provider. Travelers returning from China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran who develop symptoms of pneumonia are advised to call emergency services before going to the doctor or hospital to prevent the potential spread of the disease.