The change means Saudis who have received two jabs will be able to enter the country from Oct. 4 under the same rules as British citizens, and will only need to take one COVID-19 test two days after arrival. The changes initially apply to England only, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own rules.
The move was announced as part of a series of changes designed to simplify the UK’s “traffic light” system of travel restrictions, which placed countries in green, amber or red tiers depending on the level of risk.
Countries with a vaccination system recognized by the UK will enjoy the greatest benefits. The US and Europe have already been granted this status under a pilot scheme, but now Saudi Arabia joins them, along with 16 other countries, including Bahrain, Qatar, Japan and Singapore.
Travelers from this select list of countries must have completed a full course of the Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccines at least 14 days before travel. They will not be required to take a pre-departure PCR test, but will need to take one two days after arrival. From October a cheaper and quicker lateral flow test will suffice, rather than a PCR test.
“England will welcome fully vaccinated travelers from a host of new countries, who will be treated like returning, fully vaccinated UK travelers,” the government said.
Meanwhile, Egypt and Oman were the latest Arab countries to be removed from the UK’s red list, along with Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Kenya. Those changes will take effect from Sept. 22.
“Today’s changes mean a simpler, more straightforward system,” Shapps said. “One with less testing and lower costs, allowing more people to travel, see loved ones or conduct business around the world while providing a boost for the travel industry.”
The three-tier system had been criticized by the travel and aviation industries as being overly complicated and unfair.
The government said it is able to make the changes thanks to the high inoculation rates in the UK, where more than eight out of 10 adults are fully vaccinated.
On Friday, Saudi authorities announced that more than 40 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the country, as the number of infections continues to decline.
At the current rate of inoculation, the Kingdom expects to have 70 percent of its population double jabbed by early October. Vaccines approved in the Kingdom include Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, Sinovac and Sinopharm.