The South African Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) and the South African Muslim Travel Operator’s Association (Samtoa) has welcomed the announcement that Saudi Arabia will be gradually resuming umrah for a limited number of mu’tamireen, with international flights expected as early as November 2020. It follows the cancelling of all hajj and umrah trips in March, during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, where visits to the holy cities of Makkah and Madina were restricted.
Citing a source at the Ministry of Interior, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday that with the coronavirus developments and aspirations of Muslims across the globe, it was decided to use a phased in approach. The decision comes on the heels of a historic hajj in late July, whereby a fraction of pilgrims could perform their spiritual journey under highly controlled conditions.
In the first phase, set to kick in on October 4th, will be carried out under strict health and safety measures and will see around 6000 citizens and residents inside the kingdom performing Umrah daily, representing 30 percent of a revised capacity of 20,000.
In the second phase from October 18th, citizens and expatriates inside the Kingdom will be allowed to perform Umrah, visit the Rawdah in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, and pray in Two Holy Mosques. The capacity will be raised to 75 percent and translates to about 15,000 pilgrims per day.
From November 1st, Umrah for international pilgrims could resume subject to the current situation with the coronavirus in countries of origin. This phase is expected to until the coronavirus pandemic is no longer a danger. The arrival of Umrah performers and visitors from outside the Kingdom shall be gradual from the countries that are free from health risks related to the coronavirus pandemic, the source added.
“The fourth phase will allow the performance of Umrah, visit and prayers by citizens and expatriates from inside and outside the Kingdom, at 100 percent of the normal capacity of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet PBUH ‘s Mosque, when the competent authority decides that the risks of the pandemic has disappeared.
Sahuc president Shaheen Essop explained that the phased in approach is to prioritize safety and ensure that protection mechanisms are effective.
“More detail has to be given from Saudi Arabia in terms of what is going to required. We’re going to watch this in earnest to see how it’s going to impact our mutamireen and how it will pay going forward,” said Essop.
Essop made refence to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah developing of a mobile app, which is expected to assist pilgrims to register and book. Health guidelines are also provided therein. intending pilgrim must have a valid permit from the application, which will be launched on 10 Safar, and be able to prove that they are clear of coronavirus. The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah will make mechanisms and centers in Makkah to transport pilgrims from and to Masjid Al Haram.
He cautioned aspiring pilgrims that there are many variables that could change South Africa’s fate of travelling to the holy lands.
“There may be a restriction on aged people or people with chronic ailments and so forth. We are first going to wait for all the information to present itself and then make the necessary recommendations,” said Essop.
Meanwhile, on the return of monies owed to pilgrims who would have embarked on Hajj 1441, Essop said that talks are ongoing.
“The unfortunate factor is that deposits that have been paid over to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is taking a little bit longer. We’re asking pilgrims to be a little more patient. Together with the operators, Sahuc has engaged the Minister of hajj, the Muassasa and the role players to try to ensure the expedition of the repatriation of those funds that need to come through.”