KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 — Malaysian travel agencies offering umrah packages want the government to ensure that Muslims here will be given the necessary Covid-19 booster shots so they can perform their pilgrimage abroad.
Bumiputera Travel Operator Association Harun KC Ahmu said the Saudi Arabian government’s policy on Covid-19 vaccination for Muslim pilgrims has been confusing, Utusan Malaysia reported today.
He hopes the Malaysian government will provide clarification on the issue soon so that Malaysian pilgrims seeking to perform the umrah will have peace of mind.
“With the third shot, this can help Muslims who had postponed their trips previously to carry on, and simultaneously resolve the issues of refunds as companies providing umrah trips have paid the government over there.
“Some travel agencies have paid for hotel lodgings even before the pandemic but when this issue occurred, the affected hotels aren’t able to return the money paid,” Harun was quoted saying.
According to Harun, a significant number of Malaysian travellers that went through his association had received the Sinovac vaccine and had cancelled their trips after finding out about the Saudi policy.
The Saudi government requires all umrah travellers to its country to receive a third Covid-19 vaccine dose if they had previously received the China brand Sinovac.
Booster doses are not required for recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Datuk Seri Razali Mohd, the president of the Association of Umrah and Haj Travel Agencies Malaysia, told the Malay paper that it has not yet seen a cancellation in travel bookings.
However, he hopes the government will facilitate the booster shots for pilgrims even if they have to pay for it, and that the process can be shortened.
“Right now we have to wait a long time, which is six months. If Saudi Arabia has set a booster dose requirement, the government must give flexibility to get the vaccine quickly, provided payment is made,” Razak was quoted saying.
The Health Ministry announced that it will start administering booster shots from this month.
However, only selected groups will receive the third dose. Priority is for the front liners, the elderly with comorbidities and those who are immunocompromised.