The Saudi Ministry of Interior expanded its travel restrictions for pilgrimages to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina on Wednesday, March 4, to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Effective immediately, Saudi citizens and residents will no longer be allowed to perform Umrah in Mecca or visit Al Masjid an Nabawi in Medina. All other nationals also remain temporarily barred from carrying out pilgrimages in the two holy cities.
Travel restrictions for foreign nationals remain in place as of Wednesday. Travelers coming from a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country must spend 14 continuous days there and show no symptoms of the virus in order to gain entry to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, visas for tourists from dozens of countries where the Kingdom considers the spread of COVID-19 to be a threat - including China, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea - remain temporarily suspended as of March 4. Both electronic visas and visas issued upon arrival are affected by the policy.
To date, there have been two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia. Further international spread of the virus is expected over the near term.
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, and take appropriate health precautions.
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.