Covid-19 fear: Saudi Arabia cancels Umrah visas

Covid-19 fear: Saudi Arabia cancels Umrah visas

Hyderabad: The coronavirus pandemic has forced Saudi Arabia to suspend pilgrimage visas. On Thursday it announced the suspension of pilgrimage and tourism, and said it was suspending the issue of Umrah and visitor visas.

This has hit local service providers looking forward to the start of the peak Umrah season when 5,000 pilgrims were expected to fly from the city. Travel agents said they had already paid advances for air tickets and accommodation in the two holy cities of Mecca and Madina.

Not only has Saudi Arabia suspended issuance of visas to their kingdom for Umrah and visiting the Prophet’s mosque, but it also suspended entry of tourist visa holders coming from countries where the coronavirus is spreading. India is in this list. The Kingdom emphasised that the procedures were temporary and subject to continuous evaluation by their health authorities.

Saudi Arabia welcomes millions of Muslim visitors all year round with the peak during the Haj pilgrimage. The Kingdom introduced a new tourism visa last October for 49 countries including India. It issues approximately six to seven lakh visas for Umrah every week to nationals of various countries.

India ranked fifth in terms of the world’s top nationalities that visited Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah. In a week, lakhs of Indian pilgrims set foot in Saudi Arabia. More than 25 lakh Indians perform Umrah every year. Muslims prefer to perform Umrah during holy days like Shab-e-Meraj (the night when the Prophet ascended to Heaven) and Shab-e-Barat (known as the night for forgiveness) apart from the month of Ramzan.

Umrah pilgrims from around Telangana and Andhra Pradesh used to embark from Hyderabad International Airport through service providers in Vijayawada, Kurnool and Kadapa in AP, and Hyderabad, Ranga Reddy, Karimnagar and Niza-mabad in Telangana.

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