Severity: Critical Alert

Entry/Exit: Saudi Arabia continuing to ease COVID-19-related restrictions. Domestic flights to resume from May 31; curfew to be scaled back.

This alert affects Saudi Arabia

This alert began 26 May 2020 23:20 GMT and is scheduled to expire 15 Jun 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: Restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Transport and business disruptions, increased security

Summary
Authorities in Saudi Arabia are continuing to ease restrictions that the kingdom had implemented as part of its effort to curb the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). On May 26, the General Authority of Civil Aviation of Saudi Arabia (GACA) announced plans to resume domestic flights beginning May 31. All domestic flights will have to comply with safety guidelines established by the Ministry of Health and GACA before being authorized to operate, however. International flights will remain suspended until further notice.

The government in Riyadh will also be relaxing other restrictions nationwide, except in Mecca, from May 28. New scaled-back curfew hours of 1500-0600 will be in effect May 28-31. Commercial activities and malls will be allowed to reopen, with the exception of certain businesses that cannot comply with social distancing guidelines, such as beauty salons, sports clubs, cinemas, and recreational centers.

Starting May 31, authorities will further reduce the curfew hours to 2000-0600 and work in the public sector will be allowed to resume. Officials will also lift the ban on internal movements and allow travel between provinces. Mosques across the country, except in Mecca, will be allowed to resume congregational and Friday prayers.

Despite the gradual easing of the measures, certain restrictions will remain in effect, such as:

  • Gatherings of more than fifty people are banned until further notice.
  • The city of Mecca and its surrounding neighborhoods remain under full lockdown until June 21. Authorities prohibit residents of areas under full lockdown from leaving their homes, with officials delivering essential goods and services.
  • Universities and religious schools remain closed nationwide.
  • The King Fahd Causeway linking Saudi Arabia and Bahrain remains closed indefinitely. Land border crossings with Kuwait, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates remain closed until further notice. The closures do not apply to commercial transport.


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.

Background and Analysis
The Saudi government's preventive measures are similar to actions taken by other regional governments in recent days in response to the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a viral respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (previously known as 2019-nCoV). Symptoms occur 1-14 days following exposure (average of 3-7 days). These symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, sometimes worsening to pneumonia and kidney failure - especially in those with underlying medical conditions. On March 11, the WHO declared the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Advice
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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