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Covid-19: Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait close borders to tackle new strain

Freight operations not affected by new measures, which are to be reviewed after a week
The first Saudi citizen prepares to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in the capital Riyadh, 17 December 2020 (AFP)

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman have announced that they are suspending international flights and closing their borders to prevent the spread of the new strain of Covid-19.

On Sunday, the Saudi interior minister said that his country was closing land and sea borders, suspending inbound flights and that the measures would be reviewed after a week. 

The shipping of goods would not be affected by the new restrictions. Emirates, Etihad, Fly Dubai and Arabia Airlines told passengers that they were cancelling flights to Saudi Arabia. Emirates said it would resume its journeys to Riyadh on 27 December.

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A new strain of Covid-19, named VUI-202012/01, has appeared in the United Kingdom and experts have said it was highly infectious and 70 percent transmissible, but it appears not to be more lethal.

Kuwait said that it was also suspending inbound flights and closing sea and land borders from 11pm local time on Monday until 1 January 2021, but cargo operations would continue, Saad al-Otaibi, a spokesman for Kuwait's Civil Aviation, said in a statement.

Oman, too, announced a sea, land and air border closure starting from Tuesday. Both Kuwait and Oman have land borders with Saudi Arabia and the three countries are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Several European countries shut their borders and suspended outbound flights from the UK on Sunday, where the new strain of Covid-19 was detected in December and led to tighter restrictions in the southeast of England. 

Also on Sunday, dozens of passengers who had travelled from the UK to Israel were escorted by police to a Jerusalem hotel to quarantine, and those who refused opted to fly back to London, the Times of Israel reported.