Saudi Arabia bans all international flights starting Sunday: What happens next?

Saudi women are seen arriving at King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia confirmed that it was suspending all international flights for two weeks starting from March 15 in a drive against the spread of the global coronavirus.

“The Kingdom’s government has decided to suspend international flights for travelers – excluding exceptional cases – for a period of two weeks,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Saturday the ministry as saying.

Saudi Arabia became the second country in the Gulf Cooperation Council to institute a ban on all international flights. Kuwait began a ban on all flights entering or leaving the country on Friday.

The new suspension of all international flights is an extension of last week’s limited travel ban the Kingdom imposed on 14 countries affected by the coronavirus outbreak last Monday.

Saudi Arabia has recorded 86 cases of the virus so far, but no deaths, according to the health ministry.

The time between March 15 and 30 will be considered an official holiday for all residents and citizens who are unable to return due to the suspension of flights.

Those returning from abroad right before the suspension of international flights will be quarantined either in the designated health facilities of the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health or will be asked to self-isolate in their homes depending on their test results.

The Kingdom’s Interior Ministry said all the necessary arrangements will be made regarding health procedures for examination and isolation (depending on the results) for all arriving passengers in accordance with the preventive measures.

The Ministry of Health, along with the Ministry of Interior, the Civil Aviation Authority and other relevant parties, said they are cooperating to put in place procedures for the arrival of Saudi Arabian citizens who wish to return. The relevant procedures will be announced within a week from Saturday, according to the official statement from the interior ministry.

As it stands, both Saudi citizens and residents can return to the Kingdom before the travel ban comes into effect on March 15. After the deadline, both citizens and residents cannot enter Saudi Arabia for at least the next two weeks except for “exceptional cases.”

According to the Saudi Ministry of health, any arrivals from the following countries will have to self-isolate at home for at least 14 days. From March 11 and after: The United States, Austria, Denmark, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. From March 8 and after France, Spain, Indonesia, Switzerland, and Germany. From February 28 and after: China, Japan, South Korea, Italy, Turkey, Singapore, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

Currently, Land entry via the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain has been limited to commercial trucks only carrying cargo and necessary items.

As the number of businesses and entry of investors becomes restricted, experts expect the travel ban to have some effect. After last Monday’s limited travel ban to 14 countries, Tadawul was down 4 percent by midday on Thursday, while the Kuwaiti bourse suspended trading for the day. At the time, Saudi government dollar bonds due in 2046 were down 2.8 cents, Reuters reporting according to Refinitiv data, while Aramco bonds maturing in 2049 lost 1 cent.

The Kingdom has suspended entry for visitors and for Umrah pilgrims at the end of February. At the time, visitors from certain countries were told they were unable to enter the country for tourism. On the day of the announcement, February 27, UAE-based travel agents were refusing to issue flight tickets to the Kingdom to anyone who was not a Saudi national, according to travel agents.

Last Update: 13:41 KSA 16:41 - GMT 13:41