Saudi Arabia has taken steps in the fight to prevent coronavirus from spreading. A temporary, preventive suspension of tourist online visas has been applied to the countries most affected by the epidemic. Moreover, The Ministry for Tourism announced that the Kingdom will refund pilgrims who were not able to perform Umrah travels.
This is a measure that is intended to ensure the safety of Saudis and others living on the Saudi territory while the epidemic is being contained. At the same time, momentarily limiting entry from specific countries allows other tourists to visit the Kingdom with peace of mind. It’s in line with international guidelines issued on the epidemic and must be intended as a precaution only.
Since the Kingdom has been, so far, relatively unaffected by coronavirus, the government intends to minimize the risk of infection as much as possible. The suspension is not meant to be long-term. However, no specific date has been set for the end of the suspension.
Countries Affected by the Saudi Visa Restriction
Visa issuing is currently being paused for travelers from all countries. This is likely to remain in place until the COVID-19 outbreak has ended.
The types of visas that visitors cannot currently apply for include:
- Electronic tourist visas
- Visas on arrival
Tourist permits that had already been issued to residents of the listed countries will also be temporarily suspended.
Travelers coming from other areas can still apply for both the electronic permit and the visa on arrival. Should foreigners have doubts about their eligibility with regard to the coronavirus epidemic, they can call the number 00966920000890 from outside Saudi Arabia.
How Do the New Travel Restrictions Affect Foreign Nationals Already in Saudi Arabia?
International visitors who are already in Saudi Arabia are not under any obligation to leave the kingdom.
Furthermore, if their visas are about to expire, they will be able to extend their visas for up to 180 days, according to the instructions of Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Saud Bin Nayef Bin Abdulaziz, the country’s Minister of Interior.
Other Measures Already in Place
The pause on electronic visas is not the only step taken by the Kingdom to prevent the visa from spreading.
All international flights have been canceled for a minimum of 2 weeks, apart from “exceptional cases”, in which all arrivals will be subject to health checks and quarantine procedures.
Residents of Saudi Arabia who are unable to fly back due to these cancellations will be declared to be on “official holiday”.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently issued a statement announcing that all religious visits (Umrah) to the sacred Muslim site of Mecca must be canceled or postponed for the time being.
A dedicated online portal has been set up by the government for affected pilgrims to claim their expenses. Visa fees and service charges will be refunded in their entirety. The refund can be collected at the local Umrah agents in the pilgrim’s country. More information is available by calling 0096692000281 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moreover, GCC citizens are now being banned from entering Mecca and Medina. However, if such nationals have already been in the country for 14 days without showing symptoms, they will be considered exempt from this limitation.
This latter preventative move was made because GCC states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates) all confirmed coronavirus cases within their territories.
Current Risk of Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia
At the moment, the risk of infection in Saudi Arabia is extremely low. Although several Middle Eastern and Gulf countries have reported confirmed infections within their borders, Saudi Arabia has so far remained relatively untouched.
At the very beginning of March 2020, the first case of coronavirus has been reported in the Kingdom. The Health Ministry stated that the patient arrived in Saudi Arabia from Iran via Bahrain. Iran is one of the countries that has seen most cases outside of China.
The infected individual was swiftly admitted into hospital, where it remains in isolation. People with whom they had interactions have also been quarantined and are currently being tested for the virus. This remains the only infection confirmed so far.
The coronavirus was first discovered in humans at the end of 2019 in the Chinese province of Hubei. Its capital Wuhan is considered the outbreak’s epicenter. Since then, the virus has been transmitted outside of China.
However, most affected countries have confirmed less than 5 infections so far and the vast majority of contagions are reported in the first area of infection. China remains the country with the highest number of cases, with Iran and Europe also heavily affected.