DUBAI — Saudi Arabia on Thursday expanded the list of countries its citizens and residents are banned from visiting to include the European Union, just an hour after a similar travel ban on the EU from the United States.
In a statement from the Interior Ministry carried by the official press agency, travel for its citizens and expatriate residents was suspended to the European Union, Switzerland, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Sudan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya, and Somalia.
Many of these countries are yet to report cases of the virus.
Anyone coming from those countries or who has been in them within the past 14 days are also banned from entering the kingdom.
Land ports with neighboring Jordan have also been closed to all but commercial traffic.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced similar travel bans to the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, South Korea, Egypt, Italy and Iraq.
Saudi citizens and foreign residents have 72 hours to return to the kingdom before the ban will take effect on them. The national airline, Saudia, said it would continue running flights to Paris until Friday.
An exemption for the decision has been granted to Filipinos and Indians working in the health professions or involved in shipping and trade.
The statement said the move was part of “determined efforts to control the virus, prevent its entry and spread, and based on the concern to protect the health of citizens and expatriates and ensure their safety.”
Saudi Arabia has only reported 45 cases of the virus, but the numbers are rising swiftly among its neighbors. UAE has reported 74 cases, Kuwait has 72, and Bahrain 195.
Qatar, a tiny wealthy emirate next to Saudi Arabia, reported an alarming spike of 238 new cases on Wednesday, all residents of the same compound.
By far, however, the biggest source of the infection in the region is Iran, located across the Persian Gulf from Saudi Arabia and already hosting more than 9,000 cases, including several politicians and top officials.
Saudi Arabia’s eastern province of Qatif, whose mainly Shiite residents have been known to travel to Iran, was the initial focus of its infections and on March 10, the whole region was put on lock down, with roads in and out blocked. Schools across the kingdom have also been shut down.