Too early to ban umrah travel over Omicron, says Khairy

PUTRAJAYA: The Health Ministry is of the view that it was still too early to impose a travel ban for the umrah pilgrimage in Mecca following an increase in Omicron variant cases, says its minister Khairy Jamaluddin (pic).

He said the ministry was currently monitoring case trends for the Covid-19 variant, besides making it mandatory for those returning from umrah pilgrimage to undergo the seven-day home surveillance order (HSO) and to wear digital monitoring wristbands.

“We do not want to make a hasty decision in restricting umrah travel.

“For the time being, despite the sharp increase in Omicron cases from Saudi Arabia, we (Health Ministry) ask for HSO compliance as well as physical non-contact with family members by isolating themselves in their rooms and by using separate bathrooms,” he told a media conference here on Tuesday (Dec 28).

The Health Ministry on Dec 25 said that 30 of the total 62 Omicron cases detected in Malaysia were imported from Saudi Arabia.

Khairy said the ministry also encouraged those returning from umrah to keep taking Covid-19 self-tests while undergoing quarantine, as there were some cases who only tested positive on the fifth day of quarantine despite testing negative upon arrival.

The Health Ministry has also instructed umrah tour companies to make it compulsory for umrah travellers to take their Covid-19 booster shots.

“The booster shots are very important especially for high-risk groups such as those aged above 60 and those with a history of comorbidities.

“These precautionary measures must be taken as the infectivity rate of the Omicron variant is high,” he said, adding that these measures also applied to those who planned to travel to other countries as well.

On whether Omicron infectivity rate was a source of concern as it was far more aggressive than Delta, Khairy did not rule the possibility of the government ordering returning umrah travellers to undergo their quarantine in quarantine centres if cases got to a worrying level.

“… if it gets to that, we could also restrict travel to Saudi Arabia, but this needs prior monitoring in stages,” he said.

On the congestion that occurred at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Monday (Dec 27), he said it was caused by a shortage of digital monitoring wristbands for returning umrah groups.

He said the Health Ministry had instructed Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) to add more counters and workers to ensure the wristband installing process ran smoothly.

“I inspected the counters earlier today and I was made to understand that MAHB will add more counters on Thursday,” he said. – Bernama