The Saudi government has suspended all international flights and closed its land and sea borders to travelers effective Dec. 20 in response to the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The closure, which will remain in effect for at least one week, does not apply to freight and goods shipments from countries where the virus mutation has not manifested. Foreign aircraft already in Saudi Arabia are exempt and will be allowed to depart. It remains unclear what other exemptions, if any, the government will allow.
The move follows a number of more targeted travel bans implemented by several other countries in reaction to the new disease variant, which was initially discovered in the southeast of England. Saudi authorities could extend the closure depending on disease activity after the first week has elapsed.
Domestically, commercial and business activities are operating but strict public health measures in place. Establishments that open must implement enhanced sanitization procedures, perform temperature checks of employees and patrons, and comply with social distancing guidelines. All gatherings are limited to no more than 50 people.
Authorities could reintroduce restrictive measures relating to the COVID-19 pandemic if there is a significant increase in cases; such measures could be ambiguous and occasionally contradictory.
Follow all official instructions. Abide by national health and safety measures. Reconfirm all travel arrangements. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Plan for queues and delays at available shopping centers.
Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.
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