PCR test requirements overburden dwindling pilgrimage to Mecca

A general view of the courtyard of the Great Mosque of Mecca, Saudi Arabia from December 4, 2020. (Photo: Flickr)
AMMAN — Jordanian hajj and umra tour operators called for a reduction in PCR test fees for Jordanian Umrah travelers to help the sector recover after a 19-month halt of trips due to COVID-19 as a meager number of pilgrims have been performing the “lesser pilgrim to Mecca.”اضافة اعلان

The travel agents said that since the resumption of the umra 3 months ago, the number of Jordanian travelers to Mecca did not exceed 2,000 people. 
Jordanian travellers are required to conduct three PCR tests, one before leaving Jordan, another in Saudi Arabia and a third at the Jordanian borders upon returning.

The numbers of umra travelers in 2016, 2017, and 2018 ranged between 350,000 and 400,000; in 2019 the number dropped to 200,000, while in 2020 it plummeted to zero, according to Essam Shaer, who heads the hajj and umra committee at the Jordan Society of Tourism and Travel Agents (JSTA).

Shaer said that only 2,000 Jordanians performed umra in 2021, consequently the number of licensed travel agencies has dropped from 170 to 100 as many of them were not financially able to renew licenses and forced to close.

“We are absolutely in agreement with putting safety as top priority and with conducting PCRs, but having to run three tests increases the total cost of the trip which leads to reducing to number of travelers,” said Shaer.

He called upon the government to consider cancelling the test fees at the Jordanian borders to reduce the overall cost and support the sector.

The hajj and umra sector was the most adversely affected by COVID-19 as pilgrimage was halted for more than a year and a half, in addition to numerous “hurdles” that are still in place such as allowing only people above 12 years old and 3–4 persons accommodation per room at Saudi Arabia hotels. 

“In the past, only one or two travel agents used to send 2,000 pilgrims during the winter vacation, now the largest travel agency is sending only 100 people since lifting the ban,” said Odeh Mansour, a travel agent.

Mansour said that the tests increase the total cost of umra by JD70, and whereas a umra trip used to cost JD150-200 in previous years, it now amounts to around JD350.

Travel agents called for exempting Jordanians who left Jordan before this decision, as these fees were not part of their original budget when they planned their trips.

Last week, the government resumed implementing an obligatory PCR test for Jordanians whose trip outside the Kingdom falls within ten days of departure and arrival.

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