Saudi Arabia suspends tourist visas due to coronavirus
On Thursday Saudi Arabia announced that it had temporarily suspended entry for visitors from coronavirus-hit countries with tourist visas, as well as pilgrims embarking on the Islamic pilgrimage of Umrah. According to Saudi news agency, last week the Ministry of Tourism temporarily suspended issuing electronic tourist visas for those coming from China, Italy, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Kazakhstan. The ministry also decided to temporarily suspend work on tourist visas previously issued to citizens of these countries, SPA added.
‘Al-Arabiya English’ reported that United Arab Emirates based travel agents refused to issue flight tickets to Saudi Arabia to anyone who isn’t a Saudi national. Reuters also reported Emirates Airline restricted boarding on flights to Saudi Arabia in compliance with the Kingdom’s Foreign Affairs Ministry directive. Saudi Arabia previously announced it temporarily suspended entry for individuals seeking to perform Umrah pilgrimage in Mecca or visiting the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, as well as tourists traveling from countries where the coronavirus poses a risk as determined by the Kingdom’s health authorities.
The kingdom also halted the pilgrimage for its own citizens and residents, on top of restrictions announced last week on foreign pilgrims as it declared a second coronavirus infection in a Saudi man who returned from Iran. The kingdom said the suspension was provisional, but with the umrah drawing millions of people annually, the decision has a huge potential impact. The umrah, which refers to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year, attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe annually. The decision to suspend the umrah comes ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan starting in late April, which is a favoured period for pilgrimage.