Saudi Arabia is extending its travel ban schedule and shifting the end of the Kingdom’s flight lockdown from 31 March to 17 May due to delays in delivering COVID-19 vaccines, authorities said on Friday 29 January 2021.
Following a drop in the number of COVID-19 cases, the Ministry of Interior announcement came only weeks after the Saudi government penciled in the end of March to reopen the country’s land, sea, and air entry points for travel.
On January 8, the same date of March 31 was the date decided on in order to lift the suspension of international flights. This latest decision of May 17 was based on a statement by the Saudi health minister which revealed that COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers failed to meet the set deadlines for the delivery of contracted batches. Another factor influencing the decision is the second wave of the virus which is spreading rapidly around the world, the ministry added.
The Kingdom’s aim was to inoculate most of the population against the virus while in the process keeping infection rates to a minimum before lifting travel restrictions for Saudis and reopening borders.
After the emergence of a new and more infectious variant of COVID-19, Saudi Arabia suspended flights in December 2019. Dr. Shaikh Abdullah, a physician at Riyadh’s King Abdullah Specialist Hospital and Research Center, told Arab News that extending the country’s travel ban was a “wise” decision by the government.
“Saudi Arabia has done an excellent job at containing the spread of the virus and has earned itself a place on the list of countries which have the lowest number of cases as well as death rates,” Dr. Abdullah said, adding, “Being a frontline physician in the fight against this havoc-wreaking virus, I see the immunization of the masses as the only way to beat this virus, followed by lifting the ban and reopening the borders.”
He added that global demand was slowing down vaccine rollout, “That is why extended travel restrictions are going to be a reality for the next couple of months, as well as our best option for keeping the number of deaths and cases limited while avoiding the second wave of the virus.”