Saudi Arabia stops issuing some tourist visas as Gulf virus cases continue to rise

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Tourism announces temporary ban on tourist visas to visitors from China, Italy, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Kazakhstan

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Tourism announced on Friday that it has temporarily stopped issuing tourist visas to people in countries badly hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

It listed the nations affected as China, Italy, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Kazakhstan, adding that the decision applies both to electronic visas obtained online and traditional visas issued upon arrival.

In addition, tourist visas previously issued to residents of the listed countries will be temporarily suspended, the UAE’s state news agency WAM reported.

It added that tourist visas will still be available electronically or upon arrival to citizens of other qualifying countries, but as a precaution they will not be allowed to visit Makkah or Madinah.

The Ministry of Tourism said that the restrictions were designed to protect citizens, residents and tourists, in line with recommendations from health authorities.

“These procedures are temporary and are subject to continuous evaluation by the competent authorities,” a spokesman for the ministry said.

Saudi Arabia said earlier this week that it has issued 400,000 tourist visas since their launch last September.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for visits to Islam’s holiest sites for the “umrah” pilgrimage, an unprecedented move triggered by coronavirus fears that raises questions over the annual hajj.

Saudi Arabia so far has reported no cases of the virus but has expressed alarm over its spread in neighbouring countries.

On Thursday, the UAE’s Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA) issued a decision to temporarily suspend travel using only the national identity cards of citizens of the UAE and other Gulf countries as cases of the new coronavirus soar.

The measure is being taken as part of a series of precautions to counter the outbreak of the new coronavirus as six new cases were reported in the UAE. Oman also reported a new case, raising its total to six.

The move came as the UAE also announced the cancellation of the UAE Tour cycling race prior to stage six which was due to take place on Friday after two Italians tested positive for the virus.

Infections in Kuwait and Bahrain have also soared in the past 48 hours. There are currently 45 cases in Kuwait and 36 in Bahrain.

Iran on Friday reported eight new deaths from coronavirus, taking its overall toll to 34, as the number of infections jumped again in the Islamic republic, among the worst-hit countries.

An additional 143 cases have been detected over the past 24 hours, raising the total number of confirmed infections to 388, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.

It is the highest number of new cases for a single day since Iran announced its first confirmed infections on February 19 in the Shiite shrine city of Qom.

Iran has the highest death toll from the virus outside China, where COVID-19 first emerged.

Globally, 83,905 COVID-19 cases have been reported with 2,869 deaths.

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