Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia announces lockdown, directs tourists and pilgrims to leave within 72 hours

The PIA has made emergency arrangements to bring back Pakistani pilgrims and Iqamah holders back to Pakistan as the coronavirus crisis deepens across the globe

Web Desk

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced a temporary lockdown in the country on Thursday, directing pilgrims and tourists to leave the country within the next 72 hours in a bid to contain the virus from spreading to various parts of the world. 

The Pakistan International Arilines (PIA) has made emergency arrangements to bring Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia back to the country. The national flag bearer plans to use additional flights to bring Pakistanis back from Saudi Arabia.

Those Pakistanis who are either residents of Saudi Arabia or hold an Iqamah have been provided the choice to either return to the country within 72 hours if they desire. However, if they wish to leave, then they must do so in 72 hours. A PIA spokesperson said that the schedule of the additional flights which will bring back Pakistanis from the kingdom will be announced soon.  

Earlier,  Saudi Arabia had temporarily suspended travel of citizens and residents and halted flights with several states including Pakistan, state news agency Saudi Press Agency (SPA) had reported on Thursday citing an official source at Interior Ministry.

The decision includes the European Union, Switzerland, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Sudan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti, and Somalia, source added, saying the Kingdom also suspended entry to those coming from these countries.

Saudi Arabia also suspended passenger traffic through all land crossings with Jordan , while commercial and cargo traffic is still allowed, and the passage of exceptional humanitarian cases.

The decision excludes health workers in the Kingdom from Philippines and India, and evacuation, shipping and trade trips taking necessary precautions. 

Saudi Arabia has so far 45 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to Reuters. 

Read also: Latest on coronavirus outbreak from Pakistan and around the world

Further to the decision of the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to temporarily suspend travel of citizens and expatriates to a number of countries where the threat of the spread of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID19) appeared, the SPA stated.

The decision gives a 72-hour period for citizens and those with valid residency of the citizens of those countries to return to the kingdom, before the travel suspension decision becomes effective.

WHO terms coronavirus 'a pandemic'

The World Health Organisation on Wednesday declared the novel coronavirus a "pandemic" as more than 4,000 people died and the infected toll shot above 120,000 across the globe.

Addressing a press conference, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the number of cases outside of China has risen 13-fold over the past two weeks.

The body "has been assessing this outbreak around the clock" and was "deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity as well as the inaction", he said.

Read also: WHO terms coronavirus 'a pandemic', slams countries' inaction

"We have therefore made the assessment that #COVID19 can be characterised as a pandemic," Ghebreyesus added.

In total, the number of countries where the virus has spread has tripled over the same time period.

"There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, & 4,291 people have lost their lives," he said. "Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals," he noted, warning that in the near future, the number of cases, deaths, and affected countries could skyrocket even higher.

Noting that "pandemic" was not a word to use lightly or carelessly, the WHO top official underlined: "We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time."