Saudi Arabia has lifted the 24-hour curfew on its citizens and residents for the first time since March.
This is the first step the country has taken in the de-escalation of the measures put in place to control the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
Authorities in the country have announced that all economic and commercial activities within Saudi Arabia will return to normal. Mosques have reopened across the nation and restrictions on businesses have been lifted.
The ban on international travel will remain in place for the time being. The government has said that even expatriates residents currently outside the country will not be permitted to enter until the crisis is over. People planning to go to Saudi Arabia are advised to keep checking for updates on travel restrictions and global visa information.
The travel restrictions extend to Muslims performing the Hajj. However, it has been announced that those already in Saudi Arabia may be able to perform the sacred pilgrimage.
How Has Saudi Arabia Dealt with COVID-19?
Of all 6 members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saudi Arabia has been the hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 170,000 cases and nearly 1,500 at the time of writing.
Tough measures were put in place in March to contain the outbreak. Most towns and cities across the country were placed under 24-hour curfews, with many businesses grinding to a standstill.
Borders were closed and international travel was halted. Flights were suspended and foreign nationals and expatriates were banned from entering the country.
The country has now started the process of de-escalation, lifting the curfew and allowing mosques and businesses to reopen. Both public and private sector workers may now return to work at their offices.
People are now able to leave their homes and move around freely at all times.
The wearing of masks in public and practicing social distancing is still compulsory.
Has Saudi Arabia Reopened Its Borders?
Now that the curfew has been lifted, life is returning to normal for residents of Saudi Arabia. However, international travelers, including ex-pat residents, are still barred from traveling to the country.
The borders remain closed and the Saudi government has not yet announced when they will reopen.
The Saudi General Directorate of Passports said on Twitter that there would be “No entry for ex-pat residents until the end of the pandemic”.
However, the situation continues to change as authorities monitor the situation and the fluctuating number of coronavirus cases.
International travelers are recommended to keep checking global travel information for updates and ensure they check visa requirements for Saudi Arabia before booking a trip.
Will It Be Possible to Perform the Hajj in Saudi Arabia in 2020?
Saudi Arabia has recently announced that the yearly hajj pilgrimage to the holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina, will take place this year, although the number of people allowed to participate will be limited.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been doubts as to whether the hajj would be allowed to go ahead in 2020.
Shortly after lifting the nationwide curfew, the Saudi government announced that the hajj would indeed happen between the end of July and the start of August.
Although in previous years, over 2 million Muslims have made the pilgrimage, it is likely that numbers will be limited this year due to the ongoing risks posed by COVID-19. To reduce the rate of transmission among pilgrims, Saudi authorities have said that only a certain number of residents will be permitted to undertake the hajj in 2020.
Who Will Be Able to Undertake the Hajj?
The exact number of pilgrims allowed and the criteria for gaining permission to perform the hajj have not yet been announced.
Muhammad Benton, Saudi Arabia’s hajj minister, has said that the number “may be in the thousands”. He went on to say: “We are in the process of reviewing, so it could be 1,000 or less, or a little more.”
It has been announced that individuals over 65 years of age and those with chronic health conditions will not be permitted to make the journey as they are considered a high-risk demographic for serious cases of COVID-19.
Foreign nationals who are not resident in Saudi Arabia and Saudi expatriates living abroad will not be permitted to enter the country until travel restrictions are lifted. This means that they will not be able to perform the hajj. In addition to Saudi Arabia’s regulations, a number of countries, including Malaysia and Indonesia, have instructed their own nationals not to go.
All pilgrims and those attending them will have to undergo quarantine both before and after the hajj as precautionary measures against the virus.