ISLAMABAD: Hajj this year might be more expensive if the Saudi government allowed it owing to the COVID-19, said Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri.
Talking to this correspondent, he said keeping in view the high cost of the Haj, the government could invite private operators for this year’s operations.
He said the Saudi government hadn’t informed any country whether it will allow pilgrims this year or not. However, Pakistan’s Haj Directorate in Jeddah is in regular contact with the Saudi Hajj Secretariat.
“We have officially written to the Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination for provision of COVID Vaccine for pilgrims. The ministry is planning to procure vaccines for the healthcare personnel initially from China. We have requested the ministry to put the pilgrims in the priority category too. If the Saudi government allows in pilgrims this year, then we will vaccinate them before their departure. However, it is yet to be confirmed whether the Saudi government approves Chinese vaccine or not. I hope the Saudi government will have no objection to the Chinese Vaccine”, commented Mr. Qadri.
He further said the government was negotiating for procurement of Chinese vaccine initially for the healthcare workers.
Pakistan’s Director General Hajj Jeddah held a meeting with the Saudi Arabia’s Secretary Hajj last week to inquire about Hajj plans for the year 2021. The Saudi authorities have assured that they will inform the directorate about the Hajj plans soon.
“Normally, we sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Saudi government on Haj every year in November. But due to COVID-19, the MoU is yet to be signed. Last year we signed the agreement and after calculating the expenditures we sought applications. However, the Saudi government halted the Hajj operations for year 2020 due to COVID”, informed the federal minister.
Asked if the government had refunded the fee to pilgrims, Mr Qadri said that they had reimbursed money to almost every pilgrim. “We have to make all the arrangements for the Hajj operations in advance because it is not easy to manage such a grand operation in a limited time period. I am not sure but if the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available for every country then the Saudi government might permit Haj this year but in limited numbers. We have chalked out different plans for this year’s Haj operation. However, the final decision is yet to be taken by the Saudi government.” The Haj cost will escalate due to COVID. All the respective countries will have to adhere and implement the Covid-19 SOPs. This will definitely enhance the operational cost.