Contact us

Health issues

I looked at some of my older blog posts recently, and was amused to see how either things had changed, or my perspective on life in KSA has changed. Some things, such as the ban on women drivers, are now just history and it seems strange to think that that was the situation until a year and a half ago. Lady drivers are now very common, and no longer do I point one out to Elaine as we drive about. Indeed, I recently saw two women exchanging details at the roadside after a minor collision. There’s progress for you.

So, no doubt (if I am spared) I will look back on this current time and the way we are navigating our way through the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) “crisis” with a sense of disbelief and wonderment as to how it has, is, and may continue to affect life in KSA. So, one week into March 2020, a virus that was identified in a city in China 10 weeks ago has become the main topic of nearly every conversation. At the moment there are travel restrictions in place and there is health advice issued by the Ministry of Health, which amount to cough etiquette, discouragement of handshaking and frequent handwashing. Maybe surprisingly there hasn’t been the hysteria seen elsewhere with panic buying of cleansing products (these are still readily available in chemists and supermarkets) or of food.  

The travel restrictions – as I write – are a ban on people coming into KSA from a list of countries, these being citizens of, travellers directly from, and people who have been to them in the last 2 weeks. There are other specific restrictions though. The affected countries list seems to grow daily. A week ago, there was an announcement banning travellers coming to KSA for the purpose of 


Umrah is a pilgrimage where Muslims travel to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah to perform religious devotions, and this is done outside of the Hajj season. There are huge numbers of Umrah travellers to the Kingdom every year, in the 2018-19 season over 6.5 million Umrah visas were issued for foreigners, and of course native Saudis can also perform Umrah too. The current Umrah season runs from early October to mid-June, so a quick back-of-envelope calculation suggests that there are an average of 25,000 foreign Umrah visitors every day. I can only imagine the carnage in the travel industry when the ban was summarily imposed.

Similarly, there is speculation that the Hajj (scheduled for late July) could be severely restricted (perhaps to in-country Saudis only) or even cancelled. Personally I cannot imagine it being cancelled, it is of paramount importance to the Islamic faith. But we live in interesting times. This week, the Holy Mosque at Makkah was closed for a “deep clean”. That’s a first! Here’s what Arab News has to say on that:

“Saudi Arabia’s Mataf - area of circulation around Makkah’s Kaaba - reopened for non-Umrah worshippers on Saturday, the Saudi Press Agency reported. The General President of the Grand Mosque and Prophet's Mosque Affairs Sheikh Dr. Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Sudais stressed the need to adhere to the precautionary procedures and cooperation with all the workers in the Grand Mosque to serve its visitors.

The decision follows a sterilization operation at the Grand Mosque. Muslims performed Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah for the first time since restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus were announced by Saudi Arabia.”

As of today, the causeway route to Bahrain – KSA’s busiest road border crossing – has been closed to all but lorry traffic. Announcements have been made to the effect that passengers wanting to travel from Bahrain to KSA must do so by air, with arrivals limited to Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam airports. You can see Bahrain from Dammam city, but the airport is a little inland so the actual flight distance is 50 miles. There are a huge number of Bahrainis and ex-pats who commute daily to work across the causeway to work in the eastern cities of Dharan, Khobar, Dammam and Jubail which collectively are the hub of the Saudi petrochemical industry. So, I cannot imagine that that decision was taken lightly.

But, this is all based on the health advice from the Saudi MoH, which in turn reles on advice from the World Health Organisation. And it is good to see that the country is taking such decisive and strategic decisions which will hopefully protect the population here, and slow the spread of this virus, even though it must in time cause a huge effect on the economy of the Kingdom.

On a personal note, we have 3 international journeys planned over the next 6 weeks – lets hope that we manage to travel!

Contacting us is straightforward

* Email:

* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212