RIYADH (AFP) – Vaccinated Saudis were allowed to leave the kingdom for the first time in more than a year on Monday as the country eased a ban on international travel aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus and its new variants.
For the past 14 months, Saudi citizens have mostly been banned from travelling abroad out of concerns that international travel could fuel the outbreak of the virus within the country of more than 30 million people. The ban, in place since March 2020, has affected Saudi students who were studying abroad, among others.
The easing of rules prompted a rush of holidaymakers to exit the kingdom, following the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
Hundreds of cars crowded roads linking Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on Monday.
The King Fahd Causeway, a 25-kilometer (16-mile) series of bridges closed in March last year, was packed with traffic as Saudi Arabia reopened its land, sea and air borders.
“It’s a beautiful feeling after such a long absence from Bahrain,” said Mohammed, a Saudi travelling to the island nation.
The opening of borders will give a welcome boost to Bahrain’s tourism industry, which is heavily reliant on high-rollers from its neighbor, the Arab world’s biggest economy.
For decades, the causeway linking Bahrain to Saudi Arabia has served as a key artery, bringing visitors who pack out Bahrain’s shopping malls and hotels. But since coronavirus slammed on the brakes, traffic was reduced to a trickle.
Travelers also flocked to Saudi Arabia’s airports on Monday for flights abroad.
“We have been confined within Saudi for around a year and a half, so we can hardly believe the ban is lifted and we can see the world,” said Nawaf al-Askar, a Saudi heading from Riyadh to Bosnia and Herzegovina with his family.