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Saudi Arabia and Dubai ease Covid restrictions to allow tourism to flourish

saudi authorities lifted the travel ban on its citizens after fourteen months due to coronavirus disease (covid 19) restrictions
Saudi nationals scan their documents at a digital-Immigration gate at the King Khalid International Airport, after Saudi authorities lifted the travel ban on its citizens after fourteen months due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 16, 2021. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri REFILE - QUALITY REPEAT

Saudi Arabia plans to soon reopen to foreign tourists, a senior tourism official said on Monday after the kingdom announced the lifting of quarantine restrictions for certain foreign arrivals.

The kingdom announced late on Sunday that non-citizens arriving from certain countries and who were fully vaccinated against or recently recovered from COVID-19 would no longer be required to quarantine in designated government hotels.

Those new measures, however, only apply to residents, government and business travellers or those visiting friends and family but not foreign tourists, according to the Saudi Tourism Authority (STA).

STA Chief Executive Fahd Hamidaddin told Reuters the kingdom would reopen to foreign tourists this year with an announcement expected to be made “very soon.”

Hamidaddin declined to say exactly when.

Saudi Arabia liberalised its tourism industry in 2019, making it easier for foreigners to apply for tourist visas to the kingdom that had been relatively closed off for decades.

Hamidaddin said the kingdom was still targeting 100 million annual visits by 2030, up from about 40 million a year before the pandemic. It was also still targeting for tourism to account for 10% of GDP, up from 3%, by 2030, he said.

Dubai also eased COVID-19 restrictions, allowing hotels in the regional tourism hub to operate at full capacity and permitting concerts and sports events where all attendees and participants have been vaccinated.

The United Arab Emirates ranks highly globally for COVID-19 testing and vaccination rates.

Social distancing and compulsory face masks will continue, Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management said. Capacities for restaurants and entertainment venues also increased.

Dubai has pushed to keep its economy, which relies on international trade and business, open through the pandemic after an initial lockdown. The emirate is due to host the Expo 2020 world fair from October, hoping to attract millions of overseas visitors.

The UAE has in recent weeks banned entry from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka to guard against the spread of the highly contagious Indian variant.

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