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Saudi Arabia Extends Travel Ban by a Week

by Staff Report

Asif Hassan—AFP

PIA to commence flights to bring back Pakistanis stranded in Gulf kingdom since imposition of new restrictions

Saudi Arabia on Monday extended a ban on incoming travelers—whether by air, land or sea—for a week over concerns about a mutated strain of the novel coronavirus that is reportedly far more infectious than the initial variant.

Saudi Arabia shut its borders on Dec. 21, suspending incoming international commercial flights but allowing foreign flights already in the country to leave. According to state-run SPA news agency, the Gulf kingdom’s Interior Ministry has said that the ban would not apply on non-citizens wishing to leave the country, or the movement of trade goods. It has also allowed limited entry for “exceptional cases.”

“The foreign airlines permitted to operate flights for this purpose must not allow crew to leave the aircraft and not to physically contact ground operation staff of the arrival airport, taking into account precautionary measures to prevent spread of COVID-19,” read a statement issued by Saudi authorities.

The Saudi decision had resulted in Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) halting all its flights to the Gulf kingdom. On Monday, the national flag carrier said that it would resume commercial flights to bring back stranded Pakistanis.

PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez told media that the flights would be one-way—solely to bring back stranded Pakistanis—noting that it would prove a financial burden on the carrier. However, he said, the flights would be permitted to carry cargo from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia.

The entire world has been taking steps to curb the spread of a new strain of the novel coronavirus, originally found in the U.K., which is said to be up to 70 percent more infectious than the initial variant. However, health authorities have stressed, it appears no more infectious and has not yet proven to be resistant to vaccines developed against the pandemic.

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