Saudia Arabia has taken the unprecedented and drastic step of closing its borders to some of its closest regional allies, including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain in an attempt to limit any further spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The order came with little warning and took effect while three aircraft belonging to Etihad Airways were en route to the Kingdom.
The authorities allowed the planes to land respectively in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam but only Saudi Arabian nationals were permitted to disembark. All other passengers were forced to remain onboard before being flown back to Etihad’s hub in Abu Dhabi.
A fourth Etihad aircraft en route to Medinah but without any passengers at the time the order was enforced was also allowed to land in the city to pick up Umrah passengers and repatriate them to the UAE.
Etihad would normally fly between Abu Dhabi and various cities throughout Saudi Arabia up to 12-times per day but has now temporarily suspended all flights to the Kingdom. The ban also affects Emirates, flydubai and Air Arabia, as well as Saudi Arabian Airlines.
An official source at the Ministry of Interior said the decision had been made “as part of its efforts to control the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) and prevent its entry and spread.” Saudi Arabia has currently reported 15 cases of COVID-19, while the UAE’s total has reached 45, Kuwait has registered 64 cases and Bahrain has diagnosed 95 patients with COVID-19.
Saudi Arabia had previously tried to limit the spread of the virus by limiting the entry of Emirati, Kuwaiti and Bahraini nationals through three main airport hubs where passengers would be screened and tested.
And having only just opened its borders to foreign tourists late last year, Saudi Arabia has already suspended issuing tourist visas to nationals from a whole slew of countries.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.