Coronavirus: Umrah Season Doomed, Casts Shadow Over Haj

SRINAGAR: The travel and tour operators who were managing the Umrah and other pilgrimages to the Middle East say the season is over and the losses are spiralling up. They have barely managed to send only fifty per cent of the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and other destinations in the Middle East.

“I usually send over 500 to 700 pilgrims to the Saudi Arabi in the winter season,” Umar Nazir Tibetbakal said. “Till the Umrah was closed, I had sent slightly more than half of that but in rest of the cases, the travels stopped at the last moment.”

Umar said, winter apart, Ramzan, the Muslim month of fasting (around 23 April to 23 May) is quite busy for Umrah. “That season is over now and I doubt there is any possibility of sending the pilgrims,” he said. Right now, he is busy managing the refund of the costs he paid for flying his clients to the Umrah whose travel stopped at the last moment. “We have been assured by the Saudi government that they will pay every single penny but right now they are busy in fighting the virus.”

The Haj Economy

On Monday, the Saudi health ministry confirmed 15 fresh cases taking the infected to 118. There has not been any death reported, so far. Riyadh, however, has shut down malls except for food stores and pharmacies, and banned serving food in restaurants and cafes, but allowed delivery services and pick-up, as well as gatherings in open and closed public places including parks, beaches and the like. It already has banned all international flights into the kingdom for a fortnight starting March 15, according to official Saudi Press Agency.

Feroz Ahmad, one of the oldest players in the pilgrimage travel said the last batch of Kashmiri pilgrims in Saudi landed Srinagar Monday morning. They were a group of 91 pilgrims who cut short their Umrah pilgrimage by a few days.

“Last year, more than 30, 000 people from Jammu and Kashmir performed Umrah,” Feroz said. “This year, it could hardly be 20,000.” The pilgrim tour and travel is managed by a huge group of 150 operators spread across Jammu and Kashmir. Feroz said the losses are piling up and there is a possibility of job losses in the sector. He said there is no possibility of Ramzan pilgrimage as well during which an estimated 2000 Muslims from Jammu and Kashmir would usually go for prayers and the Aitiqaf in the Kaaba.

Interestingly, the state Haj Committee asked intending Haj pilgrims not to submit their second instalment and gave them more time. Dr Abdul Salam, who heads the Haj Committee, said some of the pilgrims had approached with a certain problem that led to the extension in the date. This year, 9928 pilgrims are proceeding on Haj from Jammu and Kashmir. Salam said they are expecting almost 2000 seats more. But he is also keeping his fingers crossed over the entire process given the prevailing situation in most of the world.

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