Oppositions criticise umrah restrictions

by FAYYADH JAAFAR / pic by HUSSEIN SHAHARUDDIN

THE Opposition is calling the government to review its sudden restriction on umrah travel. Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (picture) and Shah Alam MP Khalid Abdul Samad both expressed concern over the abrupt cancellation of such travels.

Anwar was also aware of a recent issue related to pilgrims returning from performing umrah recently, who were reportedly asked to quarantine at hotels designated by the authorities.

“The government and responsible ministries must be swift and thorough in addressing this issue to prevent further poverty,” he said in a Facebook post recently.

In a separate statement, Khalid expressed disappointment over the government’s move and called for an immediate review of the situation.

He said umrah operators had already booked flights and hotel rooms months in advance, and that they had already incurred huge losses.

“I was told that they would lose millions of ringgit as a result of this cancellation because arranging the umrah package did not take a day or two, but everything was ready to be booked months in advance.

“Previously, when Covid-19 first hit under (former prime minister) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration, they had already suffered huge losses and some entrepreneurs had already gone bankrupt,” he said, adding that the umrah package operators were mostly Malays and Muslims.

“This is the group that is supposed to be the core of the struggle against the ‘Malay Isle government’ which is in power today.”

“It is very clear that the slogan is to help the Malays only to gain political support, whereas when the ‘Malay Isle’ business community is affected, the Ismail Sabri government, supported by Muhyiddin and (PAS president Tan Sri Abdul) Hadi Awang, does not care at all,” he said.

He stated that the government is hasty in its actions without thorough discussions with umrah package operators, especially when the Saudi Arabian government is still allowing umrah and has already started issuing pilgrimage visas for tourists from several countries.

“It can be likened to the government’s action of importing frozen chicken when trying to solve the problem of the recent increase in chicken prices,” Khalid added.

He also criticised the indifference shown by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs), Datuk Idris Ahmad, who said the government could not afford to provide facilities to accommodate a thousand people a day who needed to be quarantined to control the Covid-19 infection.

“Such a hands-off attitude is very inappropriate for a minister, while umrah entrepreneurs expect the Minister of Religion to defend their interests in this matter.

“If the Minister of Religion is lackadaisical, who else can umrah entrepreneurs hope to defend their fate?”

Khalid agreed that the government must take action to prevent the spread of the virus, but abruptly cancelling the umrah pilgrimage is not the way.

He proposed for the government to tighten the standard operating procedures for umrah travel, conducting Covid-19 tests on the congregation with strict movement controls imposed towards them and separating them from other passengers once they land, among others.

“The government can also use hotels that have suffered huge losses as a result of Covid-19 to revive their businesses by making them quarantine centres for umrah pilgrims.

“A special large quarantine centre can also be established for returning umrah pilgrims, such as MAEPS, in any location deemed reasonable,” he further said.

He requested the government to reconsider the action of suspending umrah travels as earlier announced by the health minister.

“Please act like a credible government which thinks of methods and approaches to solve problems and not by taking the easy way out without considering the impact on those involved,” Khalid concluded.

The Association of Bumiputera Tourism Operating Cos Malaysia recently expressed their disappointment over the travel ban to Saudi Arabia.

Its president Harun KC Ahmmu said the decision would affect Muslims’ ability to perform their religious duties in Makkah as well as their finances.