KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s health ministry has suspended Umrah trips to Saudi Arabia for a month from Saturday (January 8), in light of the rising number of Omicron variant cases among returning Umrah pilgrims.
During this period, the health ministry and other relevant authorities will be carrying out a risk assessment and updating the SOPs for umrah travelers, including making booster vaccines mandatory for all pilgrims in the future as well as monitoring their health status while they are in Saudi Arabia.
According to the health minister, Khairy Jamaluddin, Omicron variant cases among Umrah pilgrims made up 64.08 per cent or 157 cases of the 245 cumulative positive Omicron cases detected in Malaysia as of January 6.
In a statement, Selangor Association of Travel and Tourism Agencies president, Fathir Badri, expressed disapproval of the umrah travel ban. He said a better solution would be to allow the Umrah pilgrimages to continue but to tighten the SOPs for returning Umrah pilgrims at the airport.
He said about 10,000 pilgrims will be affected by the government’s latest decision as they have already obtained the umrah visa which includes hotel and transportation in Saudi Arabia, valued at RM3,500 (US$833).
He said refunds are not possible as payments have already been made to suppliers in Saudi Arabia, and also because the decision to postpone was made by the government of Malaysia and not Saudi Arabia.