JEDDAH: As of Saturday, there are 103 confirmed coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia. In response, the Kingdom has banned traveling for two weeks, leaving many expats without a way back.
Until this weekend, a window of 72 hours was open for expats and Saudi residents to return to their homes, but many have struggled to secure a flight amid the chaos.
Ahmed Temsah, an Egyptian expat working in Jeddah, found himself stuck in Cairo after an urgent trip that could not be postponed.
“At first, we were asked to provide PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test results to confirm we’re virus-free,” he told Arab News.
The testing center, located at Cairo International Airport, received over 10,000 Egyptians who wished to be cleared in order to catch a flight to Saudi Arabia and return to their families and jobs.
“It was too crowded,” said Temsah. “I waited but the next day Egypt suspended flights as well, and I got stuck.”
Temsah is a supervisor who oversees payments, salaries and other HR-related tasks at a company in Jeddah. He said that this has put a halt to a lot of his responsibilities.
“Many of us are far from the office now and some of our posts are solely dependent on us. We don’t have substitutes,” he said, expressing concern over the various payments that would be due, including bills, social insurance and VAT. “If there are delays in submitting them, are we going to be penalized?”
Temsah’s daughter, who had visited Saudi Arabia in the past few days, is now separate from him.
“She’s stuck at home, all alone. I’m worried about her and she’s worried about me. Many families are in the same situation. I just hope things get back to normal soon, and I pray for everyone’s recovery,” he said.
Al-Tayyar travel agent, Rashid Siddiqui, has also been held back in India on a short visit. He described the situation as “painful” and expressed his relief at securing a return flight to Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Those who have returned to the Kingdom in the past few days are to remain at home in quarantine for 14 days and can use the application Sehaty to obtain medical leave.
Many expats found themselves stranded with visas approaching expiration and contacted the Saudi General Directorate of Passports via Twitter with concerns regarding their entry/exit permits. @AlJawazatKSA reassured them with the following statement: “We will soon announce the necessary procedures to deal with all cases that have been affected by the precautionary measures to combat coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, expats are encouraged to contact the necessary parties and check their Absher accounts regularly for updates.