JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia moved on Monday to reassure the public over the new mutant strain of coronavirus as the world closed its doors to travel from the UK, where the strain was first identified.
The Kingdom has shut its land and sea borders and suspended commercial flights for at least a week. “We’re closely monitoring and studying the new COVID-19 variant and the leadership has taken all precautionary measures to … assess the situation and understand more about this new variant,” Health Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said.
There was no evidence to suggest that the new strain was more dangerous or would neutralize the effectiveness of vaccines, the minister said.
Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly rejected suggestions that a case of the COVID-19 variant had been reported in the Kingdom. There were no such cases, he said, and studies were still being conducted on the genetic sequencing of the virus.
The Saudi cultural mission in the US urged Saudi students there who had flights home to remain in their residences until the flight suspension was lifted, while maintaining precautionary health measures recommended by their local authorities.
Saudi citizens who were due to fly home from London on Sunday night were removed from their flights and given free hotel accommodation in the British capital. Many thanked Saudi embassy staff for their swift action.
At home, residents said the new travel restrictions were not unexpected. Saif Miswadeh, 28, a computer programmer from Jordan, had to scrap plans to travel home to visit his family for the new year. “I understand this precautionary measure is for the safety of our loved ones,” he said.
Jordan was one of many countries that closed their borders to Britain on Monday over fears over the new coronavirus strain, which is 70 percent more infectious than the original. India, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia and Hong Kong suspended travel for Britons, while Kuwait and Oman closed their borders completely.
Several other nations blocked travel from Britain over the weekend, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium and Canada.
Cases of the new strain have also been in detected in Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands.
Australia said two people who travelled from the UK to New South Wales had the mutated virus. Dozens of domestic flights were cancelled and New South Wales locked down more than 250,000 people. “2020 is not done with us yet,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Saudi Arabia reports 9 COVID-19 deaths, 168 new casesMore than 400,000 register for vaccine in Saudi Arabia