KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 8 — The Defence Ministry announced today a new set of Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) for those wishing to perform umrah in Saudi Arabia, including a mandatory Covid-19 booster shot.

The new SOPs come into effect on February 14.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the new SOPs require at least one person in charge (PIC) from the travel agency to accompany the umrah pilgrims throughout their trip to Mecca, as well as on their return journey to Malaysia.

This is to ensure strict compliance with the Covid-19 SOPs at all times, he added.

He also said that umrah pilgrims will be allowed to self-isolate at home without having to submit a Home Quarantine Application (HQA). Alternatively, they may choose to quarantine at a private facility, with all costs borne by themselves.

“The government knows that there are congregants leaving for the Holy Land today. Therefore, for umrah pilgrims who are going to Saudi Arabia today until February 13, they are bound by the existing SOPs.

“However, when they return home, they will be required to comply with the new SOPs that have been introduced,” he said in a statement today.

Last month, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Motac) said the new SOPs for umrah travel had been tweaked, in line with advice from the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma).

Motac said the SOPs would focus on, among others, ensuring pilgrims have travel insurance that provides health coverage, including treatment, isolation and quarantine requirements for Covid-19 infection while in Saudi Arabia and on return to Malaysia.

In addition, the SOPs would also require all pilgrims to be fully vaccinated and boosted, as well as hold the umrah travel operator responsible for keeping pilgrims informed about responsibilities, procedures, liabilities and developments throughout the pilgrimage.