RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabian Airlines will begin exceptional commercial flights this week to bring British nationals and their families back to the United Kingdom, and similar flights are being arranged for U.S. citizens to return home, both countries said.
Flights to London Heathrow will begin on Sunday from Riyadh and later in the week from Jeddah and Dammam, according to a British Embassy e-mail. A second Riyadh flight is also expected.
The U.S. Embassy said in a consular e-mail on Saturday it was working with the Saudi authorities to arrange repatriation flights on a commercial airline, but that no flights had been confirmed yet.
Saudi Arabia suspended all international passenger flights in and out of the country for two weeks starting March 14 to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The Interior Ministry said early on Sunday that those flights would remain suspended until further notice. Internal transit and workplace attendance in both the public and private sectors also remain halted, the ministry said in a statement.
The kingdom recorded 99 new cases on Saturday, taking its total to more than 1,200 coronavirus infections – the most in the Gulf Arab region – with four fatalities.
Britain has recorded more than 17,000 cases, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and heir to the throne Prince Charles, with more than 1,000 deaths.
Almost 2,000 Americans have been killed among over 115,000 reported infections, the most of any country.
The British Embassy in the United Arab Emirates said on Twitter that 32 Britons had departed on Saturday morning on a flydubai flight with a connection to London, and that it was working with UAE authorities and airlines to arrange more flights amid similar travel restrictions there.
The UAE has reported two deaths from the pandemic among 468 confirmed infections.
Reporting by Stephen Kalin; writing by Maher Chmaytelli; editing by Ros Russell and Rosalba O’Brien