Jakarta – Hundreds of Indonesian pilgrims landed in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, marking the first batch of Indonesians arriving for umrah (minor haj) following months of travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group was among the earliest to arrive at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah after the Islamic kingdom started easing restrictions and reopening the country for international pilgrims on Sunday, according to the Association of Indonesia Haj and Umrah Organizers (Amphuri).
"The Indonesian pilgrims are the second group to arrive after the Pakistanis. The pilot flight from Indonesia landed in Saudi around 6:16 p.m. local time," Amphuri umrah division head Zaky Anshary said on Monday.
"Based on the information from officials at [King Abdul Aziz] airport, Saudi Arabia has only allowed [pilgrims of] the two countries to enter the country so far."
He went on to say that 317 Indonesian pilgrims were directly welcomed by the consul general and the haj consul of the Indonesian Consulate General in Jeddah, Eko Hartono and Endang Djumali, respectively.
"Everything is based on health protocols. The plane was not at full capacity and anyone caught taking off their masks would get a warning," Zaky said as quoted by kompas.com.
Last week, Saudi Arabia announced the reopening of umrah to Mecca for Muslims around the world starting Nov. 1. The Kingdom had closed its border for international pilgrims since March over coronavirus fears and even limited the Islamic ritual for its own citizens.
Unlike the haj, for which there are specific dates based on the Islamic lunar calendar, umrah can be performed at any time of the year. It attracted 19 million Muslims to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina for haj and umrah last year.
Haj and umrah add US$12 billion to Saudi Arabia's gross domestic product (GDP) per year, accounting for 7 percent of the kingdom's annual total GDP.
Indonesia sent the second-largest number of umrah pilgrims last year with 443,879 arrivals, according to the Saudi Haj and Umrah Ministry.
Haj and umrah operators in the country can send around 1,500 pilgrims for umrah every day, with the most affordable package costing around Rp 20 million ($1,400) per person. (trn)