Indonesia this weekend celebrated the divinely good news that Saudi Arabia is set to reopen its borders to pilgrims from the world's most populous Muslim country, though it appears the two countries are working to finalize details on vaccinations before the program can begin.
On Saturday, Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi announced that Indonesian Muslims will soon be allowed to travel directly to Saudi Arabia for Umrah pilgrimage for the first time since the pandemic began.
In August 2021, Saudi reopened its borders for Umrah pilgrims from select countries, but excluded Indonesia from the list due to its high COVID-19 numbers then. In addition, Saudi did not accept incoming travelers who were inoculated with the Sinovac vaccine, which is the type that has been predominantly administered in Indonesia.
Saudi's recent validation of the Sinovac vaccine and Indonesia's declining COVID-19 rates were the reasons behind its acceptance of Indonesian pilgrims, but an Indonesian diplomat said today that the Sinovac jab on its own would not be enough to go on Umrah.
"[Pilgrims] may receive two doses of Sinovac, but they will also have to get a booster shot from one of the four vaccines [that Saudi Arabia has validated]," Eko Hartono, Indonesia's consul-general in Jeddah, said.
Eko was referring to COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna.
"Those who have been fully inoculated using the four vaccines will not need a booster shot," he added.
Eko said officials are working to integrate Indonesians' digital vaccine certificates into the Saudi system to be able to grant them entry into the kingdom. Quarantine upon arrival may be required for Indonesian pilgrims who don't pass health checks.
No date has been set for when the restriction on Indonesian Umrah pilgrims will be lifted. Given the booster requirement, however, it appears likely that it won't be realized for several more months as, officially, booster shots can currently only be administered to health workers. Indonesia plans to roll out a paid booster shot program in early 2022.
Umrah is not an obligatory form of pilgrimage in Islam and it can be performed at any time of the year. Another form of pilgrimage, the Hajj, is performed annually and is obligatory for physically and financially able Muslims for at least once in their lifetimes. However, Saudi has suspended Hajj since the beginning of the pandemic, meaning that at least 200,000 Indonesians have had to cancel their trips to the holy land each year in 2020 and 2021.