The Jakarta Post
Amid the global coronavirus pandemic, Indonesia has ensured that Muslim citizens slated to embark on this year's haj will be able to depart for Saudi Arabia, as the first Indonesian haj embarkation is still on schedule for June 26.
The Religious Affairs Ministry said on Thursday that preparations for the haj were ongoing, though it had called off manasik (pilgrimage rehearsal) to reduce the risk of novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 transmission, given that the event had always involved crowds of would-be haj pilgrims.
“We are still gearing up for the haj as preparations are under way, both in the country and in Saudi Arabia,” the ministry’s director general of haj and umrah (minor haj), Nizar Ali, said in a statement on Thursday.
He said 221,000 Indonesian haj pilgrims were still obliged to fully pay their haj travel expenses from March 19 to May 19.
According to Religious Affairs Ministerial Decree No. 6/2020, haj pilgrims are required to pay trip expenses, from Rp 31.4 million (US$2,169) to Rp 72.3 million per person, depending on their point of departure.
Nizar also added that the ministry’s haj accommodation team had reached an agreement with hotels in Saudi Arabia's holy cities of Mecca and Medina to secure rooms for Indonesian haj pilgrims.
The ministry has also started the procurement of transportation and consumption services in the Middle Eastern kingdom, even though the government has yet to sign a contract with such providers.
“We haven’t signed any contracts after receiving a letter from Saudi Arabia’s minister of haj and umrah stating that Indonesia needs to delay its settlement of all expenses with haj accommodation providers,” Nizar said.
“It is because the Saudi government is imposing a [partial] lockdown to halt the spread of the disease,” he added.
Saudi Arabia announced the suspension of umrah on Feb. 27 and has since restricted movement to curb virus spread, which included imposing a lockdown on the country's eastern Qatif province, where many infections are located.
According to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), Saudi Arabia has recorded 238 cases of coronavirus, but no deaths as of Thursday.
Eko Hartono, the Indonesian consular general in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia also confirmed that the government had received a letter from the Saudi government calling on Indonesia to postpone procurement and upcoming contracts with haj service providers in the kingdom.
He said the letter came after the Saudi government became worried that Indonesia would bear financial losses if the Islamic kingdom implemented new haj policies to halt the spread of the disease.
“But it doesn’t mean that this year’s haj pilgrimage will be canceled,” Eko asserted. (glh)