The Selangor Association For Travel and Tourism Agencies (Saftta) today questioned Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s assertion that 14 per cent of Muslims who went to Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage recently had no records of being vaccinated against Covid-19 as required.
The umbrella body representing 580 agencies dealing with tourism, travel, hotels and theme parks said Khairy’s remarks in the January 6 news conference raised concern about the integrity of the industry players.
It pointed out that the Saudi Arabian government has very stringent regulations for travellers entering the country for pilgrimages.
“Therefore, Saftta demands immediate feedback from the Health Ministry if the 14 per cent mentioned were all umrah pilgrims.
“We are a little upset because it has been four days since the statement was made — but the ministry is still investigating the matter.
“The longer the ministry takes, the worse the community's perception of the umrah pilgrims,” Saftta president Fathir Bari Alhadad said in a statement.
It said that social media has been rife with accusations against umrah pilgrims, claiming they faked their Covid-19 vaccination records just to travel to Saudi Arabia.
The group said the issue has drawn much attention, causing some muftis to weigh in.
However, the group said it would support punishing the guilty agency harshly if the assertions were proven true.
Last week, the Health Ministry detected 122 Omicron cases among umrah pilgrims who returned to the country and found that 14 per cent of these travellers had no vaccination records.
Khairy said 10 Malaysians who tested positive for the Covid-19 Omicron variant after returning to the country did not have any vaccination record, with seven others being foreigners.
The minister had also said that many of the returning pilgrims had failed to abide by the government’s home quarantine regulations.
As such, the Health Ministry has suspended travel for Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia beginning January 8 to curb the spread of Omicron.
Khairy said he is discussing the options for affected pilgrims on whether to offer a refund or reschedule the umrah travel programmes with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture as well as the Umrah and Haj Travel Agencies’ Association.
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