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Coronavirus: Saudi airline to start repatriation flights to the UK

The United States is also working with Saudi Arabia to arrange flights to repatriate US citizens
An empty King Fahd road in the Saudi capital Riyadh, after the Kingdom began implementing an 11-hour nationwide curfew, 26 March (AFP)

Saudi Arabian Airlines will operate flights to take British citizens and their families back to the United Kingdom, while repatriation flights are also being arranged for US nationals, temporarily relaxing travel measures as the kingdom fights the spread of the coronavirus.

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Exceptional commercial flights to London Heathrow will begin on Sunday from Riyadh and later in the week from Jeddah and Dammam, according to a British Embassy email sent to Reuters late on Friday. A second Riyadh flight is also expected.

The US embassy also said in an email seen by Reuters that it was working with Riyadh to arrange repatriation flights on a commercial airline, but no flights have been confirmed yet.

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.

The kingdom has taken the most drastic steps to contain the spread of the coronavirus, such as imposing partial nationwide curfews and suspending work at most public and private sector establishments.

Other measures include the suspension of all international passenger flights in and out of the country for two weeks starting 14 March, but there is no indication normal travel will resume on Sunday.

Britain has recorded more than 14,500 cases, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and heir to the throne Prince Charles, with 759 deaths. More than 1,500 Americans have been killed among over 100,000 reported infections, the most of any country.

Meanwhile, 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.