By Nabila Rahul
Kingdom to end all restrictions on air, land and sea transport for Saudi citizens 'after January 1' next year
Saudi Arabia will partially lift its suspension on international flights from Tuesday, the interior ministry said, six months after travel curbs were imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The kingdom will end all restrictions on air, land and sea transport for Saudi citizens "after January 1" next year, the ministry added on Sunday, adding that an exact date will be announced in December.
Gulf citizens and non-Saudis with valid residency permits or visas will be allowed to enter the kingdom from Tuesday as long as they are not infected with the virus, the ministry said in a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
People in other "exceptional categories", including Saudi government and military employees, embassy workers, students and people requiring medical treatment, will also be allowed to enter and exit the kingdom from Tuesday.
The ministry said that, among eight other exceptional categories, Saudi businessmen will be free to travel in and out if the kingdom if the nature of their work necessitates travel to complete commercial and industrial activities. Marketing and sales managers are also included in this category if their work requires them to visit clients abroad.
The complete lifting of travel restrictions on citizens leaving and returning to the kingdom will be lifted as of January 2021, according to the ministry. Land, sea and air ports will be allowed to re-open then as well.
There are eight categories of citizens who are allowed to travel in and out of the kingdom starting Tuesday. A limited number of flights will be allowed to resume operations to cater to the exempted citizens.
Other than the businesspeople, the categories of exemptions are government employees assigned official duties, employees in Saudi diplomatic and consular missions or in international and regional organizations abroad and their families, employees in public, private and NGO permanent jobs outside the kingdom, patients whose treatment requires travel outside the Kingdom – those would require medical records as proof, students and trainees in medical fellowship programs whose studying or training requires travel abroad. Companions are allowed to travel with them, those with humanitarian cases such as family reunifications with those residing out of the kingdom or the death of a close family member within Saudi Arabia, and those participating in official regional and international sports competitions.
Separately, Dubai-based low-cost airline Flydubai said it will "continue to add destinations to its schedule subject to government approvals and any new routes will be published on flydubai.com".
Saudi Arabia had suspended international flights in March, leaving many citizens and residents stranded overseas.
The ministry added that Saudi Arabia will later announce a plan to gradually allow the umrah pilgrimage.
Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round umrah in March over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading to Islam's holiest cities.
The kingdom also organised a scaled-down hajj in late July, with only up to 10,000 Muslims taking part in the annual pilgrimage, a far cry from the 2.5 million who participated last year.
The kingdom has sought to contain a spike in infections, which have now risen to more than 325,000 cases - the highest in the Gulf - and over 4,200 deaths.
But Saudi Arabia has also reported a high rate of recoveries, which surpassed 302,000 on Sunday.
In June, the kingdom moved to end a coronavirus curfew across the kingdom and lift restrictions on businesses, including cinemas and other entertainment venues.
* With AFP