KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1 —The Health Ministry (MOH) is holding discussions and engagement sessions with stakeholders to help prospective pilgrims who are affected by the government’s temporary suspension of travel permission to perform the pilgrimage beginning January 8.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said it included discussions with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC) and the the Umrah and Haj Travel Agencies’ Association (Papuh), whether the affected pilgrims were to be given a refund or their travel to be rescheduled.

“Indeed, we have discussed with them how those who are affected can be helped, either to reschedule their umrah pilgrimage and steps to get a refund, apart from that we will also continue to hold engagement sessions with travel agencies.

“I apologise to those who want to go on umrah, but the harm is public health ... no Muslim minister wants to postpone the umrah, but this is a serious matter, this is not a tweet on social media, not a video on tiktok, this is about life,” he told a press conference at Parliament today.

The government today announced the temporarily suspension for travel permission to perform the umrah from January 8 to curb the spread of Omicron following concerns over the spread of the variant due to non-compliance by umrah pilgrims with quarantine procedures upon their return.

Khairy, when announcing it, said the authorities were concerned that non-compliance with home quarantine procedures among returning pilgrims had caused the spread of the new variant among family members.

Asked on the cost of the mandatory quarantine at quarantine centres that would be imposed on umrah pilgrims, Khairy said the umrah pilgrims had the option of either bearing the cost of undergoing the quarantine at hotels listed by the MOH or to undergo the quarantine at the government-provided quarantine centres.

He said the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) was making arrangements to provide suitable and comfortable quarantine stations for those returning from the umrah pilgrims.

Meanwhile, Khairy said the MOH was studying the effect of the two-dose Sinovac injection, followed by the Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot for the Covid-19 vaccination which was alleged to show a low immune response against Omicron compared to other variants.

“We have been informed about it and the technical team is currently reviewing the information and they will make the necessary recommendations to the Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF).

“It is too early for us to come to a conclusion now,” he said

Based on media reports, a study conducted by researchers from Yale University, the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Health and and several other institutions found two injections of Sinovac vaccine followed by a Pfizer-BioNTech booster dose showed a lower immune response against Omicron compared to other variants. — Bernama