Thursday Feb 27 2020

Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia imposes ban on travelers from affected countries, including Pakistan

The foreign ministry said it was also suspending visas for tourists visiting from countries where the new virus is a "danger". Photo: File

Saudi Arabia on Thursday placed an immediate ban on Umrah pilgrims travelling from the countries where coronavirus cases have been confirmed including Pakistan, Geo News reported, quoting airport sources.

According to airport sources, the ban has also been placed on those travelling to the Kingdom on a visit visa. The move from the Saudi government follows the confirmation of two coronavirus cases in Pakistan on Wednesday evening.

All airlines have been directed to inform their passengers to wait for further orders. The government is "suspending entry to the Kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet's Mosque temporarily", the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.

Umrah attracts tens of thousands of Muslims from all over the globe each month. The foreign ministry said it was also suspending visas for tourists visiting from countries where the new virus is a "danger".

Data from the Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry show that as of last December, Indonesia contributed the second-highest number of umrah pilgrims with 443,879 arrivals, just below Pakistan with 495,270. The country welcomes nearly 7 million Umrah pilgrims every year, most of whom arrive at airports in Jeddah and Madinah.

In addition to the temporary Umrah ban, the Saudi government will also impose a similar ban on tourist-visa holders from “countries judged to pose a particularly high risk of spreading the virus”. 

Read also: Pakistan's first coronavirus case confirmed in Karachi, tally rises to two

Pakistanis can only travel to Saudi Arabia on permission and permanent residence

A statement from the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) said that Pakistanis who had permission and permanent residence of Saudi Arabia could travel to the country. 

However, those who wish to travel for Umrah and/or on tourist visas will not be allowed to go to Saudi Arabia "with immediate effect", said the PIA. 

"Travelers can only travel to Saudi Arabia if they have permission and permanent residence. All PIA flights to Saudi Arabia will be operating normally as per schedule to service all other passengers. PIA will fully implement the instructions given by the Saudi government," read the statement. 

The PIA made it clear that the national flag carrier will continue flight operations to Saudi Arabia until pilgrims haven't returned to the country. 

Virus has spread to 29 countries

According to Arab News Pakistan, Saudi nationals and citizens of Gulf Cooperation Council nations will not be able to use a national identity card to travel to and from the Kingdom for the time being. However, an exception to this shall be granted to Saudis returning home, and citizens of GCC countries who are in the Kingdom and want to return to their home countries provided that they left or entered the Kingdom using a national identity card.

The coronavirus outbreak has already killed more than 2,700 people, most of them in China, and spread to about 29 other countries, according to a Reuters tally. The number of confirmed cases has risen above 80,000.

The new coronavirus is believed to have originated in a market selling wildlife in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, the vast majority in China.

Read also: These tips can help you avoid coronavirus

Even as the number of fresh cases declines at the epicentre of the disease in China, there has been a sudden increase in parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, where 19 people have succumbed to the disease — officially known as COVID-19.

Saudi Arabia has not yet had a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus. The Kingdom’s neighbouring countries Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates have however confirmed a number of cases.

Pakistan confirms first two cases of coronavirus

On Wednesday, Pakistan reported its first two cases of coronavirus, Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza confirmed. "I can confirm first two cases of coronavirus in Pakistan. Both cases are being taken care of according to clinical standard protocols & both of them are stable," Dr Mirza wrote on Twitter.

He also noted that there was "no need to panic [as] things are under control".

The second patient, identified in Islamabad, was shifted to quarantine in the capital's Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS).

What is coronavirus, how does it spread?: Here's everything you need to know

With additional input from AFP