DOHA: Vaccination against infectious diseases, especially meningitis, has been made mandatory for people travelling to Saudi Arabia for performing Umrah, say tour operators based in Qatar.
The health requirements issued by Saudi Arabia for Haj and Umrah pilgrims actually included vaccination against meningococcal meningitis but this rule was not strictly implemented in the case of Umrah.
However, the Saudi authorities are no more allowing in Umrah pilgrims from other countries who have not taken the required vaccination before their departure to the holy lands, say tour organizers.
The new rule follows a recent ban imposed by Saudi authorities on the entry of foreigners to the country in private vehicles for the purpose of performing Umrah.
Representative of a community organisation operating Umrah trips for expatriates said the organizers were in for a shock, when they got information about the new rule just a day before the pilgrims’ departure last week.
“Earlier vaccination was mandatory only for Haj pilgrims. Our Umrah group was all set for departure when we came to know about the new rule. We had to rush to get all of them vaccinated in the last moment so that they will not be turned away at the Saudi border,” he said, adding that many aspiring pilgrims are still not aware of the new rule.
Tour operators say that the number of people travelling from Qatar for Umrah has dropped significantly after a recent decision by the Ministry of Interior banning visitors from going for Umrah. Earlier a number of expatriates used to bring their families and relatives on visit to Qatar for the purpose of performing the pilgrimage.
The Saudi decision banning foreigners from going for Umrah in private cars is expected to further reduce the number of pilgrims, say industry sources.
They believe this decision is intended to reduce the traffic congestion at the holy premises, with massive construction works going on in the area.
Although travelling in private cars has been banned people can still travel by air or by bus. There are many tour operators here conducting Umrah trips by road at affordable prices.
The sources have ruled out the possibility of an immediate rise in the fares due to the relatively low demand. However, the demand would increase manifold in the months to come, especially during Ramadan, which is considered the peak season for Umrah.