NEW DELHI — Saudi Arabia reopens its borders for fully vaccinated foreign tourists, after a 17-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, the state news agency said on Friday.
“The Ministry of Tourism announced that the Kingdom will open its doors to foreign tourists, and lift… the suspension of entry for tourist visa holders, starting from August 1,” the Saudi Press Agency reported, according to AFP.
However, Riyadh did not announce any lifting of restrictions on the Umrah, a pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time, which usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the world each year.
Currently only immunised pilgrims resident in Saudi Arabia are eligible for umrah permits.
According the Saudi Press Agency, travellers fully vaccinated with Saudi-approved jabs — Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson — will be able to enter the kingdom “without the need for an institutional quarantine period”, provided they also have proof of a negative PCR Covid-19 test taken within the last 72 hours and register their details with health authorities.
Riyadh has spent billions trying to build a tourism industry from scratch, as part of efforts to diversify its oil-reliant economy.
Covid-19 hugely disrupted the hajj and umrah pilgrimages, usually a key revenue earner for the kingdom — in normal times, they together rake in some $12 billion (10.3 billion euros) annually, reports AFP.
The government has accelerated a nationwide vaccination drive as it moves to revive tourism and host sports and entertainment extravaganzas, all pandemic-hit sectors.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has also announced a three-year travel ban on its citizens if they visit any Covid-19 red list countries including India. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iran, Turkey, Armenia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Belarus and Vietnam are the other red-listed countries.
Saudi Arabia has registered more than 523,000 coronavirus cases, with 8,213 deaths.