International flights resumed in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday following the decision of the Saudi authorities to exempt certain categories of Saudis and expatriates from the temporary travel ban imposed since March as part of precautionary measures to stem the spread of coronavirus.
All the international airports in the Kingdom are geared up to operate flights during this phase in coordination with the Ministry of Health and other government agencies, the General Authority of Civil Aviation said in a statement.
The GACA said that all the passengers returning to the Kingdom shall remain in home quarantine for three days and they should undergo another PCR test 48 hours after entering the Kingdom to prove that they are not infected with the coronavirus. The authority said that it would update the guidelines for passengers in line with the approved health protocols.
In a circular sent to travel agencies and airline companies in the Kingdom on Tuesday, the GACA informed that the airlines are permitted to transport GCC citizens as well as non-Saudi passengers holding a valid visa, including exit and reentry, residency permit (iqama), and visit visas to and from the Kingdom.
The authority has instructed that the passengers are not allowed to board the flight unless they provide a coronavirus negative medical (PCR) test result from an authorized laboratory in their respective country carried out not later than 48 hours before their arrival in the Kingdom. The entry and exit of the passengers in the Kingdom shall be in accordance with the COVID-19 health precautionary measures and preventive protocols issued by the Ministry of Health.
It was stated in the circular that passengers shall not violate any conditions or requirements related to banning or restrictions on travel for reasons that are not pertaining to preventing the spread of the pandemic. It is also clarified that these concessions for travel do not apply to countries to where travel suspension would continue as a result of the gravity of the coronavirus situation, a decision about which would be taken by the competent authorities in the Kingdom.
The GACA warned that penalties will be imposed in accordance with Article 163 of the Civil Aviation Law against those who fail to comply with the regulations. The specific date for the total lifting of the travel suspension for international flights will be announced 30 days before Jan. 1, 2021, the authority added.
Applying through Absher
In a related development, the General Directorate of Passports (Jawazat) clarified that the categories of Saudi citizens who wish to travel abroad as well as GCC citizens and expatriates with a valid visa have to complete the travel procedures through entering the Absher service portal at the website of the Ministry of Interior, and this procedure will not be available on the mobile application.
After entering the portal, the procedures include click on Khidmati (My Services), then click on Jawazat (Passports) and then choose icon of Message Center of Passports and enter the data. The users need to choose the General Directorate of Passports, then the exceptional travel permit service and attach the confirmed documents for the reason for travel, then submit the application and send it.
Electrifying impact on travel sector
Travel agencies and airline companies in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states as well as many other countries, which send the largest number of their national workforce into the Kingdom, have swung into action to resume flight services to and from the Kingdom following the government’s decision to ease travel restrictions effective from Tuesday.
Travel agencies in the Kingdom and many countries where thousands of expatriates are stranded following the Kingdom’s suspension of international flights in March this year are receiving a flurry of queries with regard to facilitating their travel back to the Kingdom.
Speaking to the Saudi Gazette, Yasser Mundodan, the regional manager of Al-Hind Tours and Travels, Kozhikode in the southern Indian state of Kerala, said that their staff are receiving hundreds of calls from expatriates who hold a valid visa to return to the Kingdom.
“We are now chartering flights to transport employees of the Saudi Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education and there are three flights from New Delhi, Mumbai and Cochin to Jeddah on Sept. 20,” he said adding that they are waiting for further clarifications from the Saudi authorities with regard to the return of visa holders.
“In recent days, we have received information from the Saudi agencies about facilitating the return of the private hospital workers and the Ministry of Education staff to the Kingdom,” he said.
Mundodan said that Saudi Arabia’s announcement on the partial lifting of travel restrictions has produced an electrifying impact on India’s travel and tourism sector that was reeling from the impact of the pandemic. More than half of the 2.6 million Indian nationals residing in Saudi Arabia are from Kerala.
On his part, Mohammed Saeed, the manager of the Jeddah branch of Akbar Gulf Travels of India, said that they have received the GACA circular this morning and are awaiting the details of the procedures. “There has been a large number of queries from expatriates of various countries and their relatives with regard to the specific procedures related to their return to the Kingdom.
Our officials are negotiating with various airline companies about making available reasonable fares while operating chartered flights to Saudi Arabia,” he said noting that Akbar Gulf Travels has taken the lead in operating more than 30 chartered flights from Jeddah to various destinations of India as of Tuesday.
Saeed said they have received a detailed advisory from Saudi Arabian Airlines with regard to the travel of the exempted categories of citizens and expatriates to and from the Kingdom effective from Tuesday morning.
Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday that it would lift totally the restrictions on citizens for leaving and returning to the Kingdom, with opening all land, sea, and airports starting from Jan. 1 in line with the coronavirus-related precautionary measures and protocols.
The ministry announced exemptions for the entry and exit from the Kingdom before Jan. 1, for some categories of citizens and expatriates effective from Sept. 15 and that is in strict compliance of the coronavirus precautionary measures and preventive protocols.
The citizens include government staff assigned to official duties abroad as well as those working in diplomatic missions and their families, in addition to employees working abroad and some categories of businessmen, students, and patients.