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Jakarta Post

Saudi Arabia imposes temporary ban on 'umrah' pilgrims amid coronavirus concerns

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, February 27, 2020   /   10:34 am
Saudi Arabia imposes temporary ban on 'umrah' pilgrims amid coronavirus concerns (FILES) This file photo taken on August 11, 2019 shows Muslim pilgrims performing the "Tawaf al-Ifada", a mandatory circumambulation around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the climax of the annual Hajj pilgrimage at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca. - Saudi Arabia on February 27, 2020 suspended visas for visits to Islam's holiest sites for the "umrah" pilgrimage, an unprecedented move triggered by coronavirus fears that raises questions over the hajj, which starts in July. The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in the cities of Mecca and Medina, also suspended visas for tourists from countries with reported infections as fears of a pandemic deepen. (AFP/FETHI BELAID )

In an unprecedented move that will likely have massive repercussions the world over, Saudi Arabia has imposed a temporary ban on all umrah (minor haj) pilgrims to keep the county safe from the coronavirus.

As reported by Arab News, the temporary ban was one of several precautionary restrictions announced on Thursday as health authorities in the country observed the latest developments of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

In addition to umrah pilgrims, the Saudi government will also impose a similar ban on tourist-visa holders from “countries judged to pose a particularly high risk of spreading the virus”.

Read also: Going to a country with COVID-19 cases? Here are the Foreign Ministry's recommendations for Indonesian travelers

The country welcomes nearly 7 million umrah pilgrims every year, most of whom arrive at airports in Jeddah and Madinah. Data from the Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry show that, as of last December, Indonesia contributed the second highest number of umrah pilgrims with 443,879 arrivals, just below Pakistan with 495,270.

Indonesian Religious Affairs Ministry staffer Ubaidillah Amin Moch said that requests for umrah visas and other visas to Saudi Arabia would be stopped as of Thursday and that a number of pilgrims had been held up at the airport due to the new restrictions.

“We respect Saudi Arabia’s decision as part of an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and we ask all Indonesian umrah pilgrims to be patient while we wait for the Saudi government to reopen [access],” he said in a statement on Thursday. 

“We ask the management of umrah travel agencies to be proactive in conveying this information to the pilgrims,” he added, saying that the ministry was awaiting further information from the Saudi government.

Read also: Airline fares cut to boost sales amid COVID-19 scare

Golkar Party lawmaker Ace Hasan Syadzily has responded to the news of the umrah suspension, saying that he was still awaiting an official confirmation from Saudi authorities.

“If such a policy is indeed in effect, we are honestly shocked,” Ace said on Thursday, adding that he had expected the Saudi administration to have been more prepared in anticipating the viral outbreak given that the country had also faced a similar challenge in 2013.

“We are, of course, thinking about umrah pilgrims who have been scheduled to depart soon for the country. They surely must have been looking forward to their departure, in accordance with the original schedule as organized by their travel agencies.”

He went on to say that he expected further explanation from Saudi officials regarding the duration of the ban, as well as whether the Saudi administration has recorded any confirmed coronavirus cases among umrah pilgrims. (rfa)