Saudi Arabia opens airports at full capacity

Saudi Arabia has reopened its airports at full capacity for international and domestic flights as the country begins to return to ‘normal’ for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) issued a circular to all airlines operating in Saudi airports, including private carriers, outlining that the new instruction would be effective on 17 October. It said that airports are still required to verify passengers’ vaccination statuses using the ‘Tawakkalna’ application.

Also from 17 October, Saudi Arabia has eased several COVID-19 mitigation measures throughout the country, including:

  • Masks are no longer required when outdoors (still required indoors) for fully vaccinated persons.
  • Full capacity is allowed in public places, restaurants, transportation facilities, wedding halls, and cinemas for fully vaccinated persons.
  • Full capacity is allowed in the two Holy Mosques for fully vaccinated persons.
  • Social distancing measures are no longer required for fully vaccinated persons.
  • Social distancing will continue to be enforced in places where health status checks are not performed via the Tawakkalna app.
  • Holders of visit visas are now able to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government reimposed travel restrictions and re-closed its borders because of COVID-19 in February. Fully vaccinated Saudis were permitted to leave the Kingdom in May, but it was not until August that Saudi Arabia lifted the travel ban on expatriate residents from 20 countries.

GACA said that residents with a valid residency permit (iqama) who had received two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine before they left the country would be allowed to return from UAE, Lebanon, Egypt, India, Argentina, Germany, the US, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Pakistan, Brazil, Portugal, the UK, Turkey, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, France and Japan.

A negative PCR test, taken within 72 hours of entry, is still required, along with proof of vaccinations through the Tawakkalna app and the Saudi vaccination registration system ‘Muqeem’. Unvaccinated travellers of any age must undertake a five-day period of institutional quarantine in a designated hotel. Quarantine will be lifted upon a negative PCR result on the fifth day after arrival.

Sovereign Group Sales Director Nicholas Cully said: “This announcement from GACA comes as a relief, not only citizens and expatriates but for businesses as well. The new rule will allow expats from excluded countries to enter the Kingdom directly, without having to quarantine or transit in other destinations. However, it is mandatory for them to have received two doses of an approved vaccine before returning to the Kingdom.

He said more and more people were now returning to their workplace and the economic recovery was picking up momentum. The ‘giga-projects’ of NEOM Smart City, the Red Sea Resort Project, Qiddiya Entertainment City, Amaala Red Sea Riviera and Diriyah Gate remained on track and were continuing to contribute to the Kingdom’s GDP.

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