JEDDAH: As the news broke, just before midnight on Sunday about the reinitiating of a weeklong ban on international flights to and from the Kingdom, residents and expatriates expressed full confidence in government’s measures taken to protect them from any harm.
“What do we have to lose,” Maysa Ahmed, a private sector worker in the Eastern Province told Arab News, “we’re not going anywhere and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
News of a new variant of COVID-19 found in the UK has caused major concern for health officials around the world, prompting Saudi officials along with over 30 countries to close their borders for inbound and outbound flights from Britain. The Kingdom has shut its land and sea borders and suspended commercial flights for a week. Foreign flights already in the country are allowed to leave, according to the Interior Ministry.
According to an official source at the ministry, until medical information about the nature of this virus becomes clear, the Kingdom has suspended all international flights and passengers arriving or passing through countries where the strain appeared in the past three months must isolate at home for two weeks and take a PCR test every five days while in isolation.
“We’re closely monitoring and studying the new COVID-19 variant and the leadership has taken all precautionary measures to ban international flights to assess the situation and understand more about this new variant,” said Saudi minister of health Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah.
The minister also affirmed that there is no evidence to suggest that the new variant is more dangerous or would neutralize the effectiveness of the vaccines.
Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly has also refuted claims that a case of the COVID-19 variant has been reported in the Kingdom. There have not been any cases of the new virus (mutant strain), he said adding that studies are still being conducted to monitor and examine the genetic sequencing of the virus.
Dr. Abdullah Asiri, assistant deputy minister for preventive medicine, also ruled out imposition of any curfew or lockdown in the wake of the virus’ mutation.
Our government is undoubtedly doing everything it can to protect its people and the country.
In a tweet, the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in the US has called on all Saudi scholarship students who had flights to return home to remain in their residences until the suspension has been lifted and to reschedule their flights accordingly while abiding by the precautionary measures from their local authorities.
Saudi citizens who were set to fly home on Sunday evening from London were removed from their scheduled flights as soon as the news broke and were provided free accommodation in a hotel, with several students praising members of the Saudi Embassy who took care of them from the minute they left the plane until reaching their rooms.
The news of the suspension did not surprise or shock many, with a heightened awareness of the pandemic still common among citizens.
Saudi 27-year-old dentist Raneem Ghurab expected the flight ban. She told Arab News that she understood the reasons behind the move, adding: “I found the news to be expected because the COVID-19 pandemic does not have a specific time frame, we are still trying out the vaccine, we remain to see new cases being reported every day with a second wave in some countries in the world.”
She added: “Our government is undoubtedly doing everything it can to protect its people and the country.”
Sharing the same sentiment, 28-year-old computer programmer Saif Miswadeh from Jordan had planned on traveling to his home country over the new year to visit his family but halted all plans with the closing of the borders.
Assessment of how quickly the variant mutant strain of the COVID-19 spreads is still under study.
Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, Saudi health minister
“I understand this precautionary measure is for the safety of our loved ones,” Miswadeh told Arab News, applauding the Saudi government for its quick efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
“They acted quickly to the emergency, and I feel at ease thanks to the government’s and health care workers’ efforts. Numbers have significantly reduced and everyone in the Kingdom knows they are in good hands.”