Saudi suspends international Umrah over new Covid-19 variant.

Saudi Arabia temporarily suspended international Umrah as it cancelled all international flights and suspended entry through its land and sea ports for at least a week, in an attempt to fend off a fast-spreading Covid-19 mutant strain discovered in Britain.

Umrah is a short pilgrimage that can be performed by Muslims anytime of the year. Millions of people come to the Gulf country each year to perform the Umrah pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia. However, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the kingdom suspended Umrah in March and significantly downsized its Hajj pilgrimage.

The kingdom is “temporarily suspending all international flights – except in exceptional cases – for a period of one week, which can be extended by another week,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said on Sunday.

“Entry to the kingdom through land and sea ports will also be suspended for a week, which can be extended by another week,” SPA added, citing a source at the interior ministry.

The suspension does not apply to international aircraft currently in the kingdom, which will be allowed to leave, SPA said.

 

The statement added that the suspensions would continue until “medical information about the nature of this [mutated] virus becomes clear.

Anyone from a country where the new strain of the virus has appeared after December 8 who has arrived in Saudi Arabia must isolate at home for two weeks, the interior ministry said. Those people also have to take a Covid-19 test during the isolation period and retake the test every five days.

Anyone who has returned from or passed through a European country, or any country where the new strain has appeared, during the past three months, must take a Covid-19 test too.

The movement of goods, commodities and supply chains from countries where the new strain has not appeared are excluded from the above-mentioned measures, the Ministry of the Interior said.

It comes after several European countries banned travel from Britain on Sunday as the UK government warned that the new strain of the virus was “out of control”.

Neighbouring Kuwait also announced a ban on Sunday on passenger flights from Britain over the mutant strain, which has rapidly spread throughout the country.

European states have been sounding the alarm after the continent last week became the first region in the world to pass 500,000 deaths from Covid-19.

Last week, Saudi Arabia begun its three-phase Covid-19 vaccination programme, after the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has so far recorded more than 361,000 Covid-19 cases, including more than 6,000 deaths – the highest among the Gulf states.

Source- The National.
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