Saudi Arabia has decided to allow entry to foreign travellers fully vaccinated with either Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines, provided that they also receive a booster shot of either of the four vaccines approved by the Kingdom, according to the country's e-visa portal.
"Guests who have completed two doses of the Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines will be accepted if they have received an additional dose of one of the four vaccines approved in the Kingdom," one of the guidelines for travellers on the portal says.
The decision follows the country reopening its doors to international visitors on August 1, condition to them being inoculated by one of Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
"All visitors arriving in the country with a valid tourism visa must provide evidence of a full course of one the four vaccines currently recognised: two doses of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of the vaccine produced by Johnson and Johnson," a guideline on the portal says.
Saudi Arabia had announced last week that it was reopening its borders to fully vaccinated foreign tourists after a 17-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Ministry of Tourism announced that the Kingdom will open its doors to foreign tourists, and lift... the suspension of entry for tourist visa holders, starting from August 1,” the Saudi Press Agency had reported. The report had added that travellers fully vaccinated with Saudi-approved jabs would be able to enter the Kingdom “without the need for an institutional quarantine period”, provided they also had proof of a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) Covid-19 test taken within the last 72 hours and register their details with health authorities.
However, Riyadh had not announced any lifting of restrictions on Umrah, which usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year, at the time.
In recent years, Riyadh has spent billions trying to build a tourism industry from scratch as part of efforts to diversify its oil-reliant economy. The once-reclusive Kingdom began issuing tourist visas for the first time in 2019 as part of an ambitious push to revamp its global image and draw visitors.
Between September 2019 and March 2020, it issued 400,000 — only for the pandemic to crush that momentum as borders were closed.
Covid-19 also hugely disrupted the Haj and Umrah pilgrimages, usually a key revenue earner for the Kingdom — in normal times, they together rake in some $12 billion annually.
Currently, only immunised pilgrims who are residents of Saudi Arabia are eligible for Umrah permits.
Given that scores visit Saudi Arabia from Pakistan for Haj and Umrah and on work visas every year, a lack of Saudi-approved vaccines in the latter has hampered travel to the Kingdom for many.
To address this, Pakistan had taken up the issue with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud during his day-long visit to Islamabad last month.