JEDDAH: The General Authority for Civil Aviation has updated travel procedures and COVID-19 testing for those departing and entering Saudi Arabia, introducing rapid antigen tests for travelers upon arrival in the Kingdom.
Citizens and foreign nationals must hold a negative certificate regardless of vaccine status for an approved PCR or rapid antigen test, with the sample being taken within 48 hours of their departure date to the Kingdom.
Children under 8 years of age are exempt from the test, although regulations for countries of origin related to COVID-19 testing procedures for children must be taken into account.
The measures came into effect at 1 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 9, and will include that citizens must receive a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine before departing the Kingdom. The third dose can be taken three months after the second dose. Those under 16 years of age are exempt, as well as those who hold “exempt” status on Tawakkalna.
Citizens who test positive but have received their full amount of vaccine doses approved by the Kingdom are allowed to enter after 7 days from the date of their positive test without the need for a re-examination.
Those who do not complete the full approved course of vaccine doses can re-enter the Kingdom after 10 days from the date of testing positive.
Arab News spoke to infectious disease consultant and head of the internal medicine department at King Fahad Hospital in Jeddah, Dr. Wail Bajhmom, who explained that an antigen test is a commercial test for rapidly diagnosing the presence of particles of coronavirus.
“In another words, it’s a test looking for the presence of any particle of coronavirus within the sample used from a subject, it is commercially used as rapid antigen test and it follows a simple fact; that in case of the presence of COVID-19, a reaction between the virus (antigen) and compound in the kit will take place and show the positive result,” he said.
“The test of course will show negative results if there is no reaction which means there is no virus. This method, called the rapid antigen test, is a well known method for viral and other infections detection in a fast way,” he added.
The differences between rapid antigen test and the polymerase chain reaction test is the time of results.
“When using the RAT the result will be achieved within a very short period as short as 15 minutes and it is cheaper with high sensitivity which means there is a high chance for this test to catch a positive patient,” he said.
“Moreover, RAT is a very simple test where it can be done at home with no need to take the sample to the laboratory.”
He highlighted that the PCR is a more detailed and specific test, and it can detect the presence of coronavirus within the sample even in minimal amount.
“In addition, the test should take place in specialized laboratories and it should be run by specialized, well trained medical personnel. It is still the gold standard method for diagnosing COVID-19. In fact, it is more expensive than rapid antigen test and takes a longer time to reveal the result,” he said.
“In short, a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 infection is one of the most useful and less expensive tests to give a quick and sensitive result, and it is a really good practice to use it for screening travelers, but the PCR is still the recommended confirmatory diagnostic test,” he added.