Covid-19: Idris Ahmad says he hopes Omicron variant will not affect Malaysians' chances to perform haj

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) Idris Ahmad - Bernama

JOHOR BARU: The government hopes that the new Covid-19 Omicron variant will not affect the chances of Malaysians who wish to go to Mecca to perform the haj.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) Idris Ahmad expressed concern over the new variant and said he hoped it would not hit the country as pilgrims from Malaysia could not perform the haj earlier this year due to the pandemic.

"We hope that this emerging variant will not involve our country," he said at a press conference after officiating the Malaysia Islamic Economic Development Foundation charitable programme here on Wednesday (Dec 1).

In July, Tabung Haji suspended all haj-related operations in line with Saudi Arabia's decision to restrict this year's pilgrimage to its citizens and residents within the kingdom only.

Malaysia also did not send pilgrims during the haj season in 2020 due to the pandemic.

According to a report, Saudi Arabia limited the number of pilgrims to 60,000 for this year's haj season and only the fully-vaccinated aged between 18 and 65 would be allowed to perform the haj.

On this, Idris said that Tabung Haji group managing director and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Amrin Awaluddin just returned from Saudi Arabia after holding a discussion with authorities there for next year's haj.

"The Saudi Arabia government is looking at implementing new standard operating procedures to cater for logistic needs during next year's haj, which is in line with the new norms under Covid-19," said Idris.

"Tabung Haji will brief me next week, where the meeting will also touch upon the expected price increase for haj," he added.

Idris then said that the government of Saudi Arabia has also yet to let Malaysia know the quota allocated to the country for the haj in 2022.

He added that the results from the meeting would then be forwarded to Cabinet to decide on the matter.

"We have to be fair and make it a win-win situation for both Tabung Haji depositors who are mostly from the B40 income group and pilgrims going to Mecca," said Idris.

"We cannot be seen favouring one group from the other as our action should be realistic instead of being populist," he added.

On Sunday (Nov 28), Bernama reported that the cost of performing the haj was expected to increase by more than 50% following the 15% Value Added Tax (VAT) introduced by the Saudi Arabian government from only 5% previously.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Ahmad Marzuk Shaary had said then that this would result in the cost of performing the haj for Malaysians rising to more than RM30,000 compared to only RM23,000 previously.

"The exact amount will be decided by the Cabinet and will be announced early next year. However, Tabung Haji will bear part of the total cost," he said.

Ahmad Marzuk said the current cost of performing the haj was RM23,000 with the pilgrims only paying RM9,980, and the amount has not been increased since 2001.

On the haj quota for Malaysia, he said the matter would be known early next year.

"We will abide by all decisions made by the Saudi Arabian government whether to maintain the existing quota of 30,000 pilgrims or reduce it," he added.

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