ISLAMABAD: All Pakistani Umrah pilgrims affected by the temporary travel ban to the Kingdom due to the threat of coronavirus will be compensated, the Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki said on Friday.
“Pakistani Umrah pilgrims who had to travel to Saudi Arabia during the dates of suspension will be compensated in the best possible way,” Al-Malki told Arab News on Friday. “They will be able to travel on the same visa or will be issued a fresh one free of charge.”
Saudi Arabia on Thursday placed a temporary ban on Umrah pilgrims to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“Passengers who have Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) tickets will be able to get full refund from the PIA offices or their travel agents,” the airline’s spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan told Arab News, adding that it was up to the passengers if they wanted to avail the refund option or get their seats readjusted after the ban.
Meanwhile, Saudi airlines also announced full refund of tickets through a circular.
“The Pakistani mission in Saudi Arabia is in touch with the Saudi authorities on this issue and will take all possible measures to facilitate Pakistani pilgrims,” Arshad Munir, spokesperson for the Pakistani Embassy in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.
Faizan Akhtar, a member of Pakistan’s Umrah Travel Agents’ Association, said that the situation would become clear in the next few days, but all the passengers would get refunds or manage to travel on the same Umrah package after the ban.
“There was a previous incident of flight suspension during the Pakistani-Indian standoff last year which disturbed Umrah pilgrims. They were compensated by the Saudi authorities, who extended their visas without extra charges and airlines adjusted their seats accordingly. We haven’t received any official communication on this so far, but the situation will become clear in the next few days,” Akhtar said.
Earlier, the Ministry of Tourism announced that for the time being the Kingdom would no longer be approving passes for travelers from China, Italy, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Kazakhstan.
The decision will apply to electronic visas obtained online and traditional ones issued upon arrival in the Kingdom. In addition, tourist visas already issued to residents of the listed countries will be temporarily suspended.
Visas will still be available for citizens of other qualifying countries not on the list, but as a precaution they will not be allowed to visit the holy cities of Makkah or Madinah.
The ministry said that people in countries not eligible for electronic visas could check their Saudi travel status by calling the helpline 00966920000890. Residents of the US, the UK and Schengen nations could use the same number to inquire about obtaining a tourist visa.
The Muslim World League (MWL) has given its full support to the temporary precautionary measures taken by the Kingdom to ban foreign worshippers from entering the country before the annual Hajj pilgrimage, in line with international efforts to stop the spread of the killer virus.
MWL Secretary-General Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa said that the preventive measures were temporary and fell within the legitimate duty stipulated by Shariah law, stressing the importance of complying with international standards in this regard.
“The resolution stresses the Kingdom’s concern over the safety of pilgrims and visitors from the risk of spreading the disease and any leniency entails a great responsibility,” he added.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that the action taken by Saudi Arabia would contribute to limiting the spread of the coronavirus in crowded places such as the Two Holy Mosques.
The Islamic Call Center for Latin America and the Caribbean States described the Kingdom’s preventive measures as “wise” and “in the public interest,” while Egypt’s Al-Azhar said: “These measures are permissible, legitimate and rewarded. Rather, they are a legal duty to protect people.”
The World Health Organization noted that the Kingdom’s moves would enable Saudi Arabia to implement sustainable measures to prevent and control the virus and protect crowds during this important season.