Kerala

Amid COVID-19 fears, Saudi ban hits Umra pilgrims

SpiceJet offloads pilgrims at Karipur, Oman Air deports dozens from Muscat

The ban on Umra pilgrims imposed by Saudi Arabia from Thursday over fears of COVID-19 has hit hundreds of Keralites preparing to fly to Jeddah.

The Saudi government’s announcement reached the State on Thursday morning, triggering panic and chaos among hundreds of pilgrims. As many as 97 Umra passengers who had boarded SpiceJet flight at the Calicut international airport, Karipur, were offloaded when the announcement reached the airport around 5 a.m. The flight, with 180 passengers, was to take off at 5.40 a.m. from Karipur.

About two dozen visit-visa passengers going to Jeddah were also deboarded along with the Umra pilgrims.

 

An Oman Air flight which carried dozens of Umra passengers from Karipur offloaded them at Muscat, and deported them back to Karipur. Jeddah flights of Etihad and Air India, scheduled at 9.45 a.m. and 5.40 p.m. respectively, cancelled their Umra passengers.

Confusion galore

The Saudi Arabian Airlines flight (12.35 p.m.) caused confusion at the airport by giving boarding passes to a section of Umra passengers. Airline sources said the confusion happened when the ground-handling wing at the airport went about issuing boarding passes as it had not been given any instruction about the travel ban on Umra pilgrims. However, Saudi Arabian Airlines crew stood ground that no pilgrim would be carried in the wake of the government ban. Nearly 100 Umra passengers of Saudi Arabian Airlines were sent back home.

Although Saudi Arabia had issued the ban order on Wednesday evening, the bureaucratic delay in informing the airlines in time caused the confusion and chaos at the airport.

Uncertainties continued through the day as travel agents and airlines could not give any definite answers. First it was a total ban for all passengers except those having residence permits in Saudi Arabia. Later, the travel ban was reduced to Umra pilgrims and tourists, exempting those going on business and joining family.

“Still there’s a lot of confusion. We don’t know how long the ban will continue,” said N. Abdul Rasheed, joint secretary of the Kerala Umra Welfare Association (KUWA).

KUWA general secretary Mohammed Basheer K., in separate memorandums, has requested the major airlines either to refund the tickets or to reschedule the travel without imposing penalties on the passengers.

Grapevine in the travel industry is that the ban on Umra pilgrims is likely to continue until the second week of May.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 11:40:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/saudi-ban-hits-umra-pilgrims/article30936228.ece

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