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Unclear whether international umrah will resume in January: Sahuc

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The South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) says there is no definitive answer on whether umrah will open up to international travellers early next year. Saudi Arabia has announced it will open its international borders on 1st January 2021, however, the decision will be reviewed in December. The Kingdom also announced yesterday it would lift all restrictions on citizens leaving and returning to the Kingdom, including opening land, sea and air travel in line with covid19 protocols.

The Ministry of Interior said the “resumption of umrah will be done gradually depending on COVID-19 conditions.” Umrah will first be resumed for locals (residents of Saudi Arabia) and that too will be allowed in limited numbers.

“The Kingdom will need to assess the manner in which authorities can find ways to maintain social distancing and ensure there is no uptick in Covid-19 cases from people coming into the country,” said Sahuc president Shaheen Essop.

Starting 15 September 2020, travel restrictions will be lifted for the following
– Travel for citizens (certain groups)
– Travel for expatriates to with the following visa categories (Exit-re entry Visa, Work Visa, and Visit Visa)
– Citizens of GCC countries

The resumption of flights will be in stages with the first stage starting next Tuesday and complete lifting of restrictions from January 1st, 2021.

According to Haramain.com, an application is being developed which will allow for registration of the pilgrim’s intended time and date for the performance of Umrah and also a negative COVID-19 PCR report will be a mandatory requirement. If the intending pilgrim fulfils all conditions then an “umrah permit” will be issued.

Regarding the opening date of umrah, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah will announce the full mechanism in the coming days.

Meanwhile, questions have been raised over whether or not the newly formed body South African Muslim Travel Operators Association (SAMTOA)  has fulfilled its commitment to ensuring that hujjaj, who would have embarked on Hajj 1441, are refunded by mid-September.  Chairperson Sedick Steenkamp said SAMTOA, unfortunately, they had not received a single cent from hoteliers or service providers to date.

“We are in constant contact with the stakeholders and operators have long standing relationships with these service providers. We understand that hujjaj are anxious so we hope this matter will be resolved soon,” he said.

He further added that no penalties will be incurred and as soon as monies come in, the hujaaj will be reimbursed.

Essop said authorities are working tirelessly to expedite the process. He added that South Africa is not the only country in this situation.

“They [Saudi service providers] need to understand that those monies were paid in good faith. Covid19 has affected every industry worldwide. We need to wait and see how this play out and we hope it won’t take much longer. At the end of the day, the hujjaj’s money is not lost, but just tied up.”

VOC


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