On Thursday, March 12, the Ministry of Interior announced significant travel restrictions between the Kingdom and the EU, Switzerland, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti, and Somalia due to the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). All Saudi citizens and residents are suspended from traveling to the aforementioned areas, while all individuals coming from those areas will be barred from entering the Kingdom once the decree comes into effect. The ministry also halted flights to and from the affected areas. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) clarified that Saudi citizens and citizens of the EU and the other aforementioned countries have 72 hours from Thursday to return to Saudi Arabia before the travel suspensions come into effect. Authorities also announced the suspension of all passenger traffic via the land crossings with Jordan, while commercial and cargo traffic is permitted to continue. Flight cancelations and rescheduling are expected in the coming hours and days.
Saudi Arabia previously suspended travel by air and sea to and from Oman, Turkey, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, South Korea, Egypt, and Iraq on Monday, March 9. However, MOFA representatives said that exceptions will be made for shipping, trade, and evacuations between the Kingdom and these countries.
Other travel restrictions remain in place since Wednesday, March 4, including requiring travelers from a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country to remain there for 14 continuous days 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 March 4.
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, March 9, until further notice.
Officials have confirmed 24 cases of COVID-19 nationwide as of March 12. Further spread of the virus is expected in 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 March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
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.
Measures adopted by local authorities evolve quickly, and are usually effective immediately. Depending on the evolution of the outbreak in other countries, authorities are likely to modify, at very short notice, the list of countries whose travelers are subject to border control measures or entry restrictions upon their arrival to the territory in question. It is advised to postpone non-essential travel due to the risk that travelers may be refused entry or be subject to quarantine upon their arrival or during their stay.
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:
- 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.