SA pilgrims ‘happy’ after Saudi lifts painful travel ban

There is a ray of optimism that hundreds planning Umrah trips to the Holy Land can do so once local travel agents finalise hotel contracts with their Saudi counterparts, writes an Al Qalam Reporter.

Local Muslims have welcomed the announcement this week that Saudi Arabia has finally lifted the travel ban on South Africans, especially for Umrah and Hajj pilgrimages.

Although the Saudi communication is a bit blurred, it is expected that the proviso for entry into the Kingdom will likely be for those persons who are fully vaccinated.

The travel ban was also lifted on United Arab Emirates and Argentina.

The Ministry of Interior said it had decided to “lift the suspension of entry to the Kingdom from these countries through the land, sea and air ports, and that Saudi citizens will also be allowed to travel to the unbanned countries.”

In making its decision to allow South Africa in, the ministry believed that South Africa’s coronavirus management of the pandemic was at an acceptable level.

The ministry source stressed the importance of adhering to all the precautionary measures and preventive protocols taken to stem the spread of coronavirus.

In an interview with Al Qalam, Ismail Olla, deputy secretary general of the South Africa Muslim Travel Operators Association (SAMTOA) said members were grateful that the travel ban has finally been lifted. He said there was a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity among agents to secure umrah packages. He said most of the agents – who had suspended their businesses due to travel bans – have opened their doors for business. The latest move has brought relief and optimism for the Hajj and Umrah travel industry.

Olla said, Saudi Airlines had made contact with them to investigate the possibility of flying the Saudi-South Africa route “The fact that they are making these enquiries suggest they are serious about restarting operations to this country.

He said SAMTOA was awaiting rules and regulations for South Africans to travel to the Kingdom and on whether those people already vaccinated, would have to be quarantined.

All the Saudi communiqué said was this: “All procedures and measures are subject to continuous evaluation by the competent health authorities in the Kingdom in accordance with the developments in the epidemiological situation across the world,” the source added.

Olla said: “I cannot see the Saudis asking for 14-day quarantine. In the worst scenario, they may stipulate a three-day quarantine period, but we are awaiting communication from them on this issue.”

He said since the announcement of the lifting of the ban, his office has been inundated with enquiries from eager South Africans wanting to travel for Umrah. “The moment we get further information on the matter, we will immediately let the public know,” Olla promised.

One Durban resident, Nazeem Khan (61) told Al Qalam it was a stressful past few months where many family and friends had passed away through covid. “Life is too short. I have not yet been fortunate to go for Hajj, but I feel that if I can make it for Umrah and walk on the grounds of the Prophets, I would be grateful for even that.”

“It was the best news to learn that the travel ban for SA has been lifted. As soon as the packages for Umrah are announced, my family and I would be the first in line to book,” he added with optimism.

Other countries still facing the travel ban are India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Brazil.

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