JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday lifted a direct entry ban on expats from 20 countries, a decision taken in February to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ agency for consular affairs said the decision only applied to expats who were fully vaccinated in Saudi Arabia before they departed for their home country.
The ban exempted Saudi citizens, foreign diplomats, health practitioners, and their families.
The announcement comes as Saudi Arabia recorded seven new COVID-19 related deaths on Tuesday, raising the total number of fatalities to 8,497.
Expats wanting to return to the Kingdom should undergo all health measures to ensure they were free from infection, the agency added.
The direct entry ban was imposed due to a global surge in cases linked to variants detected in England, South Africa and Brazil and fears that vaccines being rolled out worldwide might be less effective against them.
It covered the UAE, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, the US, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Japan.
It also applied to travelers who had transited through any of the 20 countries in the 14 days before a planned visit to the Kingdom.
Many passengers had been using Dubai as a transit hub from countries where there were no direct flights to Saudi Arabia, an option that was no longer available after the ban came into effect. In addition to the February ban, Saudi health officials warned that stricter measures would be necessary to curb the spread of the virus if the public continued to flout regulations on social distancing and the ban on large gatherings.
Flights to and from the Kingdom were first suspended on March 14, 2020, two weeks after the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus outbreak was a pandemic.
Entry to Saudi Arabia by air, land and sea resumed on Jan. 3.
The Ministry of Health confirmed 353 new cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 542,707 people have now contracted the disease.
Of the total number of cases, 4,377 remain active and 1,108 in critical condition.
According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 72, followed by Makkah with 66, the Eastern Province with 41, Jazan recorded 34, and Asir confirmed 30 cases.
The health ministry also announced that 456 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 529,833.
Over 34.46 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date through 587 centers.
The ministry renewed its call on the public to register with the Sehhaty app to receive the vaccine, and adhere to the measures and abide by instructions.
Meanwhile, some 40 people were arrested in Hail for violating preventive measures that stipulate no more than 20 people can gather at one point. Legal measures have been taken against them and penalties were applied against the host, the person in charge of the facility, and everyone who attended the gathering.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 213 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 4.45 million.