So on Thursday morning (26th February), we all woke up to the news that the Ministry of Hajj has temporarily suspended entry to the kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting Madinah in response to the global coronavirus outbreak.
Since then, there are still mixed reports. On social media, you’ll see pilgrims such as That Muslim Tourist fulfilling their Umrah inshAllah as he departed on the day of the travel suspension. From other reports, buses have been turned away from entering Makkah to avoid further crowds.
Today (5th March), an official notice from Ministry of Hajj asked agents to submit lists of all present Umrah guests who should be moved from either Makkah or Madina back to their home countries. In three days there will be no transport allowed between the cities for movement. We’re also aware that the current situation will continue to the 31st March at least. So for now, any plans to travel Umrah in March is almost certainly not going to continue.
Today (3rd March), British Airways announced its “Book With Confidence” campaign designed to allow greater flexibility on booking your travel. It’s a welcomed reassurance, but still doesn’t allow flexibility to fully cancel your trip if you need to or allow changes to higher travel periods. Saudi Airlines has suspended boarding all UK passport holders with tourism, visit and Umrah visas and if you’ve booked direct or with an agent, they should be able to provide you with the steps for a refund. This is applicable for travel up to the 13th March, so could that be a potential review date for the ministry?
This obviously has some major repercussions for travellers that could be travelling on the day we’re writing this post. They may be at the airport boarding a flight from all over the world to suddenly be made aware they won’t be allowed to enter the kingdom in their Ihram. It’s unprecedented. It’s worrying. It’s stressful. However, is the Kingdom doing the right thing?
Yes and no. As in most things governments do, there will always be those who benefit and those who have to go through disruption that causes a lot of pain. There is little doubt that travelling for Umrah (and Hajj) carries the chance of catching a light cold all the way to chest infections and viruses. The Kingdom is safeguarding and de-risking and that must be the right thing to do. However, as with most decisions made in the Middle East, it comes with zero notice and plenty of shock factor.
If you’re travelling this week, what do you do?
At the time of writing this, your guess is as good as ours. However, if there is a travel ban in effect by a government then this does open the doors to being able to make amendments. Currently, there is no advice issued from the FCO or Saudia Arabian Airlines. Here are the possible options;
I’ve booked my flights and accommodation with an agent
This is by far the best scenario as you SHOULD have booked with an ATOL licensed agent. If so, and your trip cannot go ahead, then the agent is your first port of call. To be honest, they’re in the dark as much as you are at the time of writing, so be gentle. We will update this post as events unfold, however, the agent is responsible for your travel arrangements in this regard.
I’ve booked my flights online and my hotel with an agent
This would mean you have no ATOL protection and the best course of action is to speak to your agent to see whether hotels are allowing cancellations free of charge. I would hope and suspect they would allow this considering the service is incapable of being used, however, sometimes cancellation policies are very strict no matter the circumstance.
Flights are tricky. If you’re flying to Madinah (via say Dubai or Amman), you may be in a better position considering visiting Madinah is on lockdown. However, to Jeddah, there may have to be some measure in place to confirm you’re travelling for Umrah specifically. Again, I hope common sense prevails and airlines allow for changes or rebooking and we’ll keep you updated.
My visa is approved, can I still enter?
Based on the communications that have been sent out this morning, ENTRY to the Kingdom has been temporarily suspended. That means from our understanding that even with a visa approved, you will not be allowed to enter the Kingdom.
The Saudi Press Agency has reported that entry has also been suspended for those coming from countries in which the spread of the virus is a danger, based on health authority criteria.
Follow @thatmuslimtourist who is due to fly out for Umrah on Thursday for live updates. This actually may be a great way to see what’s happening on the ground (albeit at the airport).
What else can I do?
Right now, it’s a waiting game to see how this moves forward. However, if you’re planning to travel in the next few days to a week, it’s highly unlikely your travel plans will continue for Umrah.
1. Speak to your travel provider and find out what you can and cannot cancel
2. Subscribe to feed and blogs (like this one and @halaltravel) for updates
3. Be responsible for your own safety. If you’re vulnerable to illness or are older in age and have a medical complication, take medical advice and be prudent about your travel decisions. Coronavirus has been found to affect older victims more than younger victims. Take heed of medical advice and keep yourself as healthy as possible.
4. Mentally prepare yourself that you may have to postpone your Umrah trip. Pilgrimage is a sacred journey and it’s going to be a huge disappointment, however, remember everything happens for a reason and your call will come again inshAllah.
KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA:
Due to a directive issued by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the following will be suspended entry to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from 27 February until further notice:
All customers travelling on an Umrah visa. All customers holding Tourist Visas & coming from: People’s Republic of China & SAR (Hong Hong & Macau) / Republic of China / Iran / Italy / Republic of Korea / Japan / Thailand / Malaysia / Indonesia / Pakistan / Afghanistan / Philippines / Singapore / India / Lebanon / Syria / Yemen / Azerbaijan / Kazakhstan / Uzbekistan / Somalia / Vietnam
Customers across the Emirates network holding tickets for final destination Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with Umrah visa or coming from the above countries, will not be accepted for boarding at their point of origin until further notice.
All GCC nationals travelling to/from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are mandated to use their passports for travel (except for those who are outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and wish to return to it).
Rebooking and refunds for KSA:
Customers impacted due to cancellation of flights should contact their travel agent, or Emirates Office for refunds and rebooking options.
The above commentary is our opinions and does not constitute legal travel advice. Any consequence from the action of the above advice is not the liability of Rihaala.com or it’s associates. Please ensure you speak to your relevant travel company and government organisations for final advice.