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Hajj, Umrah operators count losses over COVID-19

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Hajj and Umrah tour operators in Nigeria are counting losses recorded as a result of the suspension of Umrah (lesser hajj) services by Saudi authorities occasioned by coronavirus pandemic.

Operators, in a chart with The Guardian, urged urgent action to curtail the spread of the virus, noting that the suspension of lesser hajj has dealt a big blow to their businesses.

Managing Director/CEO, Habdat Xpress, Alhaji Qasim Alabi said his company has to cancel Umrah trip, which was stated for February and March. “We have make refund to our pilgrims, though some requested that we should hold it pending the time when the problem is resolved.”

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He noted that if quick measure or intervention were not put in place the economy would go into recession.Adding that within the short period the coronavirus outbreak started, tour operators have recorded immense losses in terms of low patronage.

“Most operators are idling now most especially those who are into only hajj and umrah travels. Though those into local travel are still in business.”

Alabi said the spread of coronavirus shows no signs of abating and this year’s Hajj that is due to take place in July may be affected.

“Looking at the trend, I am optimistic that Hajj will take place. But I am not sure of Ramadan Umrah though everything is in the hand of Allah. Preventing harm is better.”

Managing Director, First Elevation Travels, Hajia Muyibat Abiola said Saudi Arabia’s decision to ban Umrah pilgrims is a big blow on tour operators.

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“People are scared to remit money due to the ban on Umrah especially during Ramadan that is few weeks away. By now, we ought to have known the figure of our intending pilgrims (for Ramadan Umrah), but nobody is coming forth to register or pay for the holy exercise.”She added the problem is becoming worst day-by-day because most countries have also suspended issuance of visas for travellers.

“Before now, we were still booking people for travelling to other countries such as UAE, Qatar, but now most of these countries have also suspended issuance of visas. This has prompted a sharp drop in the tourism business,” she said.

Meanwhile, The Muslim Congress (TMC) has called on the Federal Government to close all land, air and sea borders to the country immediately.

Noting that an urgent step must be taken in order to prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus before it spirals out of hand.

The Amir of TMC, Dr. Luqman AbdurRaheem, said despite the preventive measures put in place by the Federal Government and the states, the country had three confirmed cases of the corona virus all brought in from outside the country.

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“The third confirmed case of the corona virus by someone who flew in from the United Kingdom shows that the preventive measures using scanners and other physical checks are not enough to detect all cases of people who have contracted the deadly virus. Likewise the usual method of asking people who have been in contact with the infected to self-quarantine and report themselves to the health authorities is not that effective since they may also spread the virus to others without knowing”.

The group argued that border closure would prevent the country from recording further infections in the country.

“Isn’t it better then to close the borders so that people are not even coming in with the virus in the first instance? This is what will prevent us from recording further infections in the country”.

The group commended the Federal Government for the preventive and curative measures put in place. “We must not become complacent or over-confident that we can deal with the corona virus just as we did with the Ebola virus.

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“We cannot be too careful in this instance. Facts have revealed that apart from China where the virus originated, several countries like Iran, Spain and Italy are seriously hit with heavy death tolls. Even the United Nations has described the spread of the virus as a pandemic. A virus that has infected more than a hundred thousand people and killed over six thousand people all over the world is of drastic measures for protection.

“We may say that we do not want to hit the panic button but there could be a very thin line between panic and complacence. And once the virus spreads, our fragile healthcare system might not be able to arrest the situation until it has exerted maximum damage. This is exactly what we need to prevent. Corona virus has shown itself capable of shutting down cities and preventing all forms of trade and social life. We need to take urgent measures to ensure that we do not arrive at such situations.

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The group reiterated that, as a matter of urgency, the Federal Government should close our land, air and sea borders immediately and limit movement to that which is of utmost importance at these borders. “Banning government officials from foreign travel is commendable but insufficient to tackle the problem at hand.

“The strategy for combating this contagious virus must be wholesome and all-inclusive. We must realize that a chain is only as strong as its weakest point. Our biggest measure must be the prevention of further importation of the virus into the country and the surest way to do this, as has been proved by other countries of the world, is to ban foreign travel at the moment. After that, all other measures would be capable of preventing and containing further spread of the virus. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine”.

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