Saudi Arabia admits vaccinated tourists after 17 months of Covid closure

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Saudi Arabia announced Friday that it would reopen its borders to fully vaccinated foreign tourists after a 17-month lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the state news agency said.

However, Riyadh did not announce the lifting of restrictions on the umrah, a pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time and usually attracts millions of Muslims from around the world every year.

“The Ministry of Tourism has announced that the Kingdom will open its doors to foreign tourists and lift the suspension of entry for tourist visa holders from August 1, the Saudi news agency reported.

It said travelers who have been fully vaccinated with Saudi-approved jabs — Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson — can enter the kingdom “without the need for an institutional quarantine period,” provided they also have evidence of a negative PCR Covid-19 test taken in the last 72 hours and register their data with health authorities.

Riyadh has spent billions building a tourism industry from scratch as part of efforts to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

The once reclusive kingdom first began issuing tourist visas in 2019, as part of an ambitious effort to revamp its global image and attract visitors.

Between September 2019 and March 2020, it spent 400,000 – only for the pandemic to crush that momentum when the borders were closed.

Covid-19 also greatly disrupted Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, usually a major source of revenue for the kingdom – in normal times, they collectively bring in about $12 billion (10.3 billion euros) a year.

Currently, only immunized pilgrims living in Saudi Arabia are eligible for umrah permits.

The government has accelerated a nationwide vaccination campaign to revitalize tourism and host sports and entertainment extravaganzas, all sectors affected by the pandemic.

So far, 26 million shots have been administered to the population of 35 million, and the kingdom has said that from August 1, vaccinations will be mandatory to enter government and private institutions, including educational institutions and entertainment venues, and to use public transportation. .

Saudi Arabia has recorded more than 523,000 cases of coronavirus, with 8,213 deaths.

(AFP)