Gulf Countries Close Borders over Virus Variant


Riyadh, Dec 21 (AFP/APP): Gulf countries said they would halt all passenger flights and close their borders for a week or longer, after a new strain of coronavirus spread quickly in England.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman said they were suspending commercial travel and banning entry and exit via their land and sea borders, other than for cargo. Riyadh said it was stopping international flights for at least one week and possibly two, the official Saudi Press Agency reported late on Sunday night.

“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 the interior ministry.

The suspension does not apply to international aircraft currently in the kingdom, which will be allowed to leave, SPA said. Cargo into Saudi Arabia will only be permitted from countries where the new strain has not been identified as having broken out. The Gulf sultanate of Oman announced it will close its “land, air and sea border starting 1:00 am local time on Tuesday” for a week, the official Oman News Agency reported.

The decision was based on what “authorities in a number of countries announced regarding the emergence of a new Covid-19 strain”, it said, but would not affect cargo flights or cargo vessels. Neighbouring Kuwait — which had on Sunday initially placed a ban on passenger flights from Britain — announced that it will now suspend all commercial flights until at least January 1, according to a government statement.

The developments come after several European countries banned travel from Britain on Sunday as the UK government warned that a highly infectious new strain of the virus was “out of control”.

Close the skies

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Jordan too said it was banning all direct and indirect flights from the United Kingdom until January 3, according to a statement by Minister of State for Media Affairs Ali Ayed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday the Jewish state had implemented a “decision to close the country’s skies,” by preventing arrivals by most foreigners, although diplomats would be exempted.

Over 1.69 million people have died after contracting coronavirus since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP. Several Gulf countries have in the past couple of weeks rolled out Covid-19 vaccination programmes. The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman — have so far recorded more than one million novel coronavirus cases, including over 9,000 deaths.

Saudi Arabia’s death toll is highest among them at more than 6,000. But the kingdom has also reported a high recovery rate.

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