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Saudis advised to go back to masks in crowded spaces

Saudi women in face masks Covid-19 Reuters/Ahmed Yosri
The new Covid-19 variety 'does not form any danger to public health', the kingdom's health authority says, but it is still advising Saudis to wear masks in public places
  • New Covid variant spreads
  • PHA: ‘No cause for concern’
  • ‘Vaccine still effective’

Saudi Arabia has advised people to return to wearing masks in crowded public places after the spread of a new Covid-19 variant, but has told the public there is no cause for concern. 

“Try to wear a face mask when in crowded places, for your protection and protecting others from respiratory infection,” the Public Health Authority (PHA) said on the social media site X on 17 January. 

It later tweeted: “If you suffer from respiratory diseases avoid leaving the house and mixing with others, or try to wear a mask when you go out in order not to spread the infection.” 

Earlier in the month, the PHA issued a reminder to the over-50s and vulnerable groups to obtain the latest Covid-19 vaccine, which it said can be taken regardless of the number of previous doses. 

The authority said last month the JN.1 Covid-19 variant had become widespread in the country but did form any danger to public health. 

“The advanced Covid-19 vaccine is still effective, so there is no reason for concern or heightened measures,” it said on 20 December. 

Pandemic-era restrictions, including a requirement to wear masks in closed spaces, were lifted in June 2022, which allowed for an expansion in tourism and full return for the hajj pilgrimage, attended by nearly two million Muslims. 

Religious tourism accounted for 45 percent of 14.6 million visitors during the first six months of 2023. Pilgrimage season will pick up this year between Eid al-Fitr in April and Eid al-Adha in June. 

Major sports events are also planned such as the Professional Fighters League (PFL) vs Bellator MMA mixed martial arts event in Riyadh on February 24. 

The government wants tourism to account for 10 percent of GDP by 2030, up from around 3 percent in 2019 when e-visas were introduced.

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