Jakarta. The government is continuing its diplomatic efforts with Saudi Arabia, in hopes to enable Indonesian Muslims go on a minor pilgrimage or umrah to Mecca amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“So please kindly wait,” Eko Hartono, the Indonesian consul general in Jeddah, said.
The government ealier received a diplomatic note from Saudi Arabia that the latter is considering the reentry of Indonesian umrah pilgrims.
But a number of technical details are still in discussion between the two countries, and will require both to be in agreement.
Among others is the synchronization of Indonesia’s Covid-19 tracing app PeduliLindungi and its Saudi Arabian counterpart Tawakkalna.
Having the apps in sync will enable the Indonesian pilgrims’ health status —particularly the vaccination certificate— to be readable when they go on pilgrimage. However, it is still in process.
“Without the health status and vaccine certificate, it is impossible to make the umrah pilgrimage,” Eko said.
Saudi Arabia recognizes Pfizer, Astrazeneca, Moderna, and Johnson&Johnson vaccines. The country accepts umrah pilgrims administered with any of those vaccine brands.
However, those vaccinated with other brands —such as Sinovac and Sinopharm— must get at least a booster shot from one of the four vaccines that Saudi Arabia approves.
But until there are clear regulations on the technicalities including the vaccine and booster policies, people are advised to wait and not force themselves to go on umrah, such as by using a visit visa.
“This is different from the pre-pandemic times. Everything now must be in accordance with the existing regulations. The e-Visa must also be taken care of,” Eko said.
The Religious Affairs Ministry is in constant communication with various ministries, bodies, and the Covid-19 taskforce in protecting the pilgrims’ health.
Discussions revolve around quarantine and booster regulations, as well as umrah fee changes. The ministry is also discussing the technical details with the hajj dormitories and health facilities.
“We are preparing a revised guideline for umrah pilgrimage in the pandemic era. Once it is completed, [we will] conduct a rehearsal on the departure and return of umrah [pilgrims] in Pondok Gede and Bekasi hajj dormitories,” Nur Arifin, the ministry’s director for hajj and umrah, said.
The Religious Affairs Ministry has coordinated with relevant ministries and telecommunication firm Telkom to assist senior-aged pilgrims.
So in addition to PeduliLindungi, the pilgrims will have a vaccination card worn around their neck for easier health screening at the places of worship.
The government is also discussing with relevant associations to arrange a one-door system at the initial phase.
“This initial one-door system plan is to build Saudi Arabia’s trust, [and show] that we are truly responsible and only send healthy pilgrims. If this works, [we will return] the [departure or embarkation] to the regions like it was before. So please do not misunderstand,” Arifin said.
Likewise, Budi Darmawan, the chairman at Umrah and Hajj Organizers Association, hopes this one-door system can prove to Saudi Arabia that the arriving Indonesian pilgrims are healthy, and follow the existing regulations of both countries.
He also urged the public and fellow organizers to understand that until now, no decision has been made regarding the pilgrim departure.
“So there won’t be any hoax, just because they want to send pilgrims [to Mecca],” Budi said.
According to Budi, about 62,000 people had to postpone their pilgrimage since the closure on February 27, 2020.
Following the pandemic, umrah pilgrimage costs Rp 26 million (about $1,834), but the fees can potentially jump by 30 percent due to quarantine, PCR tests, and insurance.
Covid-19 Taskforce spokesperson Wiku Adisasmito reminded the pilgrims to comply with the health protocols at all times.
“Do follow the ‘3M’ protocols [wear masks, wash hands, maintain distance] and the health guidelines of both Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Do quarantine before departure and also when they return in the standardized locations,” Wiku said.
“The one-door system departure is crucial to ensure that everything is under control. And please obey the existing screening regulations,” he added.