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Passengers leave Saudi Arabia as international flights resume

Passengers leave Saudi Arabia as international flights resume

Passengers left Saudi Arabia on Tuesday morning as international flights resumed, with arrivals to the country facing a mandatory three-day quarantine.

International passenger flights have been allowed to operate with limited capacity for  expatriates who have applied through a Ministry of Interior initiative that allows people in the country legally or illegally, visitors and tourism visa holders to return home.

The end of the months-long restrictions was a balm to those departing from the Kingdom’s airports. International flights were grounded on March 15 in order to curb the spread of infection.

Ali Abdulhameed, a scholarship student at Delaware State University, returned to Saudi Arabia for spring break just a few days before the Kingdom suspended all international flights.

“It was surreal at first, especially since I didn’t know what would happen next,” he told Arab News. “Would I be able to go back to school or stay in Jeddah and finish my semester online? It was a very confusing time but it was good to have spent it between my family.”

Abdulhameed kept up with information on how to return to the US and applied twice through a government platform for permission to travel but failed to get it.

“They say the third time’s the charm,” he added. “After the news of international flights resuming I now have a flight back to Washington DC next week.”

On Sunday the Ministry of Interior announced a partial restart of international flights. The Kingdom will end all restrictions on air, land and sea transport after Jan. 1 next year, the ministry said, with a specific date announced in December.

“Thankfully, as the whole world succumbed to the circumstances due to COVID-19, a lot of companies and their representatives were cooperative,” 45-year-old Jeddah restaurateur Saleh Mohammed, who travels to his suppliers in Malaysia and Indonesia three times a year, told Arab News. “With the resumption of flights I can now arrange my affairs accordingly if and when I decide to travel, though I’m still uncomfortable especially not knowing what could happen to me abroad. I’d rather play it safe and stay home.” 

Those arriving in Saudi Arabia must quarantine in their homes for three days, even after presenting proof of a negative polymerase chain reaction test conducted no more than 48 hours prior to travel.

They must also register with the Ministry of Health’s Tetamman app to specify their location within eight hours of their arrival in order to ensure that nobody violates quarantine. Arrivals must also download the ministry’s Tawakalna app to monitor and facilitate the electronic issue of movement permits for those in quarantine.

Domestic flights resumed at the end of May, with the General Authority of Civil Aviation opening 11 of the Kingdom’s 28 airports in a step toward restoring normality to everyday activities.

All flights and means of travel between Saudi cities stopped on March 21.