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Saudi Arabia threatens three-year travel ban for citizens who visit 'red list' countries

Nationals are banned from travelling directly or via another country to states including Egypt, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates
Saudi passengers arrive at King Khalid International airport in the capital Riyadh on 17 May (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia will impose a three-year travel ban on citizens travelling to countries on the kingdom's "red list" as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus and its new variants, the interior ministry reported on Tuesday. 

Those found to have travelled to restricted countries will face "hefty penalties... as well as being prevented from travelling abroad for a period of three years", the interior ministry reported.

"Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the spread of new variants, the ministry warns against travelling to countries on its (restricted) list, whether directly or indirectly via other countries," it added.

Saudi Arabia has banned travel or transit to a number of countries including: Afghanistan; Argentina; Brazil; Egypt; Ethiopia; India; Indonesia; Lebanon; Pakistan; South Africa; Turkey; Vietnam; and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

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Earlier this month, the kingdom announced it was suspending flights to the UAE, Ethiopia and Vietnam to protect against a coronavirus variant.

The decision was taken due to "the spread of a new mutated strain of the (Covid-19) virus", the interior ministry said at the time, without explicitly mentioning the increasingly widespread Delta variant.

The variant, first detected in India and now present in dozens of countries around the world, is the most contagious of any Covid-19 strain yet identified.

The UAE announced in June it had recorded cases of the Delta variant. 

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, put major limits on the annual hajj pilgrimage in an effort to combat infections. 

The kingdom recorded 1,379 new Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, bringing its total to 520,774 cases and 8,189 deaths. 

It saw daily infections fall from a peak above 4,000 in June 2020 to below the 100 mark in early January.