Saudi Arabia suspended on Sunday travel of nationals and residents to nine countries, including Egypt, as part of measures to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a post on its official account on twitter that the countries impacted by the Kingdom’s latest travel restrictions include the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, South Korea, Egypt, Italy, and Iraq.
The step includes suspending entry to the Kingdom for travelers coming from the aforementioned countries, as well as individuals who were in one of those countries during the 14 days prior to their arrival to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi’s Foreign Ministry also said that the suspension covers flights and maritime voyages between Saudi Arabia and those countries, excluding evacuation attempts, shipping and trade, and stressed that authorities were taking the necessary precautions to slow down the spread of the virus, dubbed COVID-19, with over 7,000 cases having been confirmed in the Middle East so far.
The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported an official source at the Ministry of Interior saying that these measures are to protect the health of citizens and residents and ensure their safety. Saudi Arabia had already moved to temporarily shut off access to Islam’s holiest sites in the Kingdom as part of efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The source added that the Ministries of Interior and Health may coordinate to deal with humanitarian and exceptional cases.
Egypt has confirmed 55 cases of coronavirus in the country so far, most of which are linked to an outbreak on an Aswan-Luxor Nile cruise ship, Reuters reported. On Sunday, the country recorded its first death from the novel respiratory illness – a 60-year-old German tourist.
Iran, the epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East, has confirmed 194 deaths from the illness.
For its part, EgyptAir has moved to suspend until further noticr its daily flights to the Saudi cities of Dammam, Qassim, Abha, Jeddah and Medina starting Monday.
A statement from the company cited a decision issued from the General Authority of Civil Aviation in Saudi Arabia to suspend all flights to and from nine countries as part of the precautions taken against the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The statement said that customers can review and change their bookings through the nearest EgyptAir office or through the website http://egyptair.com. For more information, travelers can contact EgyptAir’s call center; hotline: 1717 and land line: 090070000.
In light of flight suspensions and other travel restrictions brought on by COVID-19, EgyptAir also announced that it would be waiving the change fees for international flights until the end of the month.
Meanwhile, Kuwait announced a decision on Friday to suspend flights to and from Egypt, the Philippines, Syria, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India. The decision does not apply to Kuwaiti nationals in those countries, who will be allowed to return to Kuwait but must submit to quarantine procedures.
The suspension will last a week as Kuwait prepares the necessary equipment to conduct medical exams on arrivals coming into the country, as part of efforts to curb the outbreak of coronavirus in Kuwait.
There are over 110,000 coronavirus cases worldwide and the virus has killed upwards of 3,800 people. In Italy, one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 outside mainland China, 366 deaths have been recorded so far and authorities have moved to lock down 16 million people.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm
Image: Medical staff distribute information sheets to Iraqi passengers returning from Iran at Najaf International Airport (AFP/Haidar Hamdani)