News Coronavirus watch03 Mar 2020

Saudi Arabia suspends umrah pilgrimage, upcoming hajj season looks uncertain

| 03 Mar 2020

Saudi Arabia has suspended the umrah pilgrimage due to mounting concerns over a spike in infections across the Middle East. Visitors travelling from countries with "a risky outbreak" of COVID-19 cases would be temporarily banned from entry, according to media reports. In Asia, the countries most affected by the travel ban include Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

The Saudi government has also barred citizens from the GCC countries – who do not require a visa to enter the kingdom – from entering Mecca and Medina. GCC citizens can normally enter the kingdom with their national identity document.

Although these suspensions are said to be temporary, it remains unclear when they would be lifted – sparking uncertainty over the annual hajj season which is scheduled to start in late July.

Saudi Arabia typically receives over two million pilgrims every year.

At the beginning of this year, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah signed an agreement with Tawuniya to provide a new mandatory comprehensive insurance policy for foreign pilgrims. As part of this agreement, the ministry will provide healthcare and other services to pilgrims from the time they arrive in the kingdom until they leave. A pilgrim automatically gets insurance once their visa for travel to the kingdom is issued. The insurance coverage for all pilgrims is standard, and will cover delay and cancellation of trips, hospitalisation and medical expenses, death and injury suffered in accidents and disasters.

The number of insurance policies issued in the first 10 days of this year reached almost 180,000, including more than 37,000 effective policies.

Health is the largest insurance segment in Saudi Arabia, and the introduction of the mandatory medical coverage for hajj and umrah pilgrims is expected to contribute over SAR3bn ($800m) of premiums, according to Fitch Ratings.



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