KUALA LUMPUR: Despite the haj pilgrimage being postponed twice due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Lembaga Tabung Haji (TH) is continuing with its preparations, taking into account the pandemic situation and developments in Saudi Arabia.
TH Haj executive director Datuk Seri Syed Saleh Syed Abdul Rahman said the planning and preparations had been continuously implemented since the 2020 haj season in an effort to ensure that the Malaysian haj pilgrims would be able to perform the fifth pillar of Islam smoothly.
He said one of the steps implemented was conducting 14 series of haj courses for prospective pilgrims online, including an additional series emphasising the new standard operating procedure (SOP) in Saudi Arabia as well as the haj rules and regulations amid the pandemic.
TH would ensure that prospective pilgrims have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as required by the Saudi Arabian government before they are allowed to enter the holy land, he said.
Apart from that, TH, during the national-level haj muzakarah held previously, had also emphasised the concept of istito’ah or ability to perform haj during the pandemic.
“In this muzakarah, it was important for us to refine and set resolutions to be used as a pilgrimage guide to perform haj in the new norm by looking at the constraints of movement and obstructions in the event of an outbreak,” he said in an interview with Bernama.
Syed Saleh said TH had also held a meeting with those handling operations involving departure stations as well as a workshop with the Health Ministry (MOH) relating to SOP for staff and health protocols that needed to be complied with.
He said the MOH health team will be assigned at eight departure stations in the country to monitor the health status of pilgrims before leaving for the holy land.
TH will also increase the number of healthcare workers, especially public health teams to be stationed in Jeddah, Madinah and Makkah.
“Previously, during the haj season, we had 260 medical staff from various categories including specialist doctors, nurses and pharmacists, but due to Covid-19, we now need to add at least 30 more personnel to manage the pilgrims’ health and safety,” he said.
He added that this also takes into account the isolation facilities in hotels and other accommodation, the provision of medical equipment such as ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as medicines.
TH has also drawn up details on actions to be taken at each stage of haj activities, both here and in the holy land, with various possible scenarios that may occur during the haj operation.
“If there is a positive case of Covid-19 among Malaysian pilgrims, first, we will be subject to the SOP set by the Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia and then we will refer to the SOP, based on the current development of Covid-19.
“Secondly, we need to assess the Covid-19 infection. If it is in categories one or two, then we can handle it ourselves in our hospital. For categories four or five which require facilities in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), we will then send the case to a hospital there (Saudi Arabia),” he said.
The cost of the haj pilgrimage is expected to increase, largely linked to physical distancing in hotel rooms and buses, as well as the limited movement of pilgrims inside the Masjidil Haram (the Grand Mosque).
“I see this has an impact on the cost of the next haj pilgrimage as recently the pilgrims had to pay around RM15,000 to RM20,000 for five to seven days, involving three locations, namely Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina for performing tawaf and saie only.
“The cost does not include the cost of hotel accommodation in Makkah and Madinah as well as food and drink, flights from Malaysia and Saudi Arabia,” he said, adding that the haj pilgrimage in 2019 cost RM9,980 per person for a period of 40 to 45 days. — Bernama