Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin had announced a temporary suspension of the umrah pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia starting 8 January after hundreds who returned to the country from their umrah were infected with Covid-19.
He added that the suspension will be indefinite and the booking of new flight tickets for such trips has also been postponed effective today.
“Pilgrims leaving for the Holy Land on 1 to 7 January will be allowed to continue with their journey.”
“However, they have to undergo quarantine at quarantine stations or hotels that have been identified as a quarantine station by Nadma (National Disaster Management Agency) when they arrive in Malaysia,” he said.
Meanwhile, he also revealed that out of the 11,108 pilgrims returning from umrah between October to 30 December, 1,306 were tested positive and of the 9 clusters, 5 involved index cases with the Omicron variant, one presumptive Omicron cluster and three non-Omicron.
Khairy then said the large-scaled gathering involving pilgrims from various countries while they were in the Saudi Arabia have exposed them to high risks of contracting Covid-19 infections, including the Omicron variant.
This situation makes it difficult for pilgrims to comply with the standard operating procedures (SOP) set by the Malaysian government.
“They may also have been infected while in Saudi Arabia but were still in the incubation period of the infection, causing the screen tests done before returning to Malaysia to be negative.” Khairy added.
Nonetheless, Khairy cited a total of 966 out of 1077 Covid-19 samples obtained from international travellers between 21 December and 29 December 2021 had displayed “presumptive Omicron” after screening by the Institute for Medical Research (IMR).
Of the 966 samples, Khairy said 750 or 77.6% involved samples obtained from travellers arriving from Saudi Arabia.
“This temporary postponement in umrah activities is expected to help reduce the risk of Omicron infections within the country and decelerate the rise of Covid-19 cases.”
“Moreover, this move would also provide the opportunity and room for the government to carefully plan and prepare in the management of umrah pilgrimage before they are allowed to resume once again,” he said.