Pilgrimage was approved after Indonesian government took extensive screening measures.
Jakarta – The Indonesian government hopes Umrah pilgrimage activity will gradually return to normal following the departure of 419 pilgrims on 8 January. It is the first departure since Saudi Arabia closed its borders to Umrah pilgrims in February 2020, as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Saudi Arabian government approved the move after Indonesia introduced a new one-gate screening measure, meaning all pilgrims should be quarantined and depart from Soekarno-Hatta airport. It also centralised the process of health screening including PCR test and vaccination status.
"We have to make sure this departure will go well because if we succeed, it can be a benchmark for upcoming Umrah full reopening or even Hajj reopening this year,” Director General of Hajj and Umrah Organisation at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Hilman Latief told Salaam Gateway.
Tens of thousands of Umrah pilgrim trips have been cancelled across Indonesia since February 2020. In the pre COVID-19 era, Indonesia usually sent around 1 million Umrah pilgrims each year.
Syam Resfiadi, chairperson of the Indonesia Hajj and Umrah Travel Association (SAPUHI) and the owner of Patuna Travel Agency told Salaam Gateway that he will start offering Umrah packages to customers at the end of this month following the Umrah reopening.
Resfiadi said the one-gate measure is the right move from the government to prevent unscrupulous travel agents from performing fake PCR tests or forging other required documents.
Patuna Travel, which has 5,000 customers, says it hasn’t organised any pilgrimage trips since the Saudi government closed Umrah activity in February 2020 because many of the customers objected to the 13 days quarantine requirement. Some 75% of Patuna’s customers are state employees and government officials, meaning they require extended annual leave to perform Umrah.
“With the quarantine requirement it takes around 20 days, it’s too long for them,” Resfiadi said.
Following the Umrah reopening, national airline Garuda Indonesia will fly twice per week from Soekarno-Hatta airport to Medina, on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Hajj and Umrah passengers contribute 10% of the airline's total annual revenue.
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