Saudi Arabia includes Taiwan in travel ban due to coronavirus risk

Historical Dir’iyah, Saudia Arabia (Image taken from visitsaudi.com)
Historical Dir’iyah, Saudia Arabia (Image taken from visitsaudi.com)

TAIPEI (CNA) — The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Thursday that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has imposed a temporary travel ban on several countries, including Taiwan, as a precautionary public health measure to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

However, Joanne Ou (歐江安), the ministry’s spokeswoman, clarified at a regular press conference that Riyadh’s decision has nothing to do with political considerations such as treating Taiwan as part of China.

“Saudi Arabia’s health ministry listed Taiwan separately from China’s epidemic area,” Ou said.

“But considering close interactions between people across the Taiwan Strait, the country decided to suspend the issuance of all kinds of visas to Taiwanese nationals,” she added.

Aside from Taiwan, Riyadh banned the entry of visitors from another 24 countries or regions judged to pose a high risk of spreading the coronavirus, including China, Hong Kong, Macau, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and the Philippines, according to a separate MOFA statement.

The strict measure reflects concern following the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) outbreak that claimed more than 450 lives in the country from 2012-2015, MOFA said, adding that Riyadh has also halted the issuance of visas for the purpose of Umrah, a lesser pilgrimage undertaken by Muslims to the holy cities of Medina and Mecca.

The Taiwan representative office in Riyadh has expressed concerns regarding the temporary ban and explained Taiwan’s coronavirus prevention measures to the Middle East country, hoping for a reversal of the decision as soon as possible, MOFA said.

On Feb. 2, the Italian government announced the suspension of all flights to and from Taiwan until April 28, a decision based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) characterization of Taiwan as part of China’s epidemic area. The move prompted protests from the Taiwan government.

On Wednesday, the Malaysian state of Sarawak included Taiwan in its travel ban imposed on China since Feb. 1, a move attributed by MOFA to political pressure from Beijing.

“After talks, #Sarawak in #Malaysia recognized #Taiwan isn’t #China & lifted its #Coronavirus travel ban. Guess what? China forced Sarawak into banning Taiwan again!” Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said in a Twitter post Thursday.

“China takes joy in shoving Taiwan around & then expects gratitude for its #Wuhan sacrifice. That’s sickening,” he tweeted.