Umrah and Haj tour operators and residents seek further clarification following UAE's announcement of mandatory influenza vaccination for pilgrims. The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) confirmed that travellers to Saudi Arabia must present influenza vaccination cards, effective March 26.

"So far, we have not got any clarity on this matter," said Noushad Hassan from Alhind Business Centre, which operates Haj and Umrah tours. "As of Tuesday afternoon, none of our passengers were asked for the vaccination cards or any such documentation."

According to MoHAP, preventive measures are taken as part of its commitment to protecting the health and safety of pilgrims, Haj performers, their families, and all segments of society from infectious diseases.

Not taking chances

Naveeda Jukaku is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia for Umrah on March 31 and is still trying to figure out what to do. "The new rules specify that the vaccination should be taken ten days prior to travel which means I am already late for it," she said. "Neither my travel agent nor the airlines have been able to give me any clarification."

Naveeda, who will travel with her extended family, has decided not to take any chances. "I have just booked an appointment to get influenza vaccination at a local clinic," she said. "Even though we are still seeking clarity, I want to be on the safe side."

The Ministry also clarified that individuals who have previously received the influenza vaccine within the past year are exempt from obtaining a new vaccination. Approved vaccination cards can be obtained through the Al Hosn application and presented at travel checkpoints.

Seeking clarity

A spokesperson for the Sharjah Airport Travel Agency said many issues were pending clarity. "Several visitors to Saudi Arabia now opt for the multiple entry tourist visa," he said. "Many of them perform their Umrah on this visa. It is unclear how the mandatory vaccine will be enforced on such people."

The spokesperson further said that none of their travellers had been asked for their vaccination records. "We have had people travelling to Saudi for Umrah on both the Umrah visa as well as multiple entry visa today," he said. "However, none of them were asked for their vaccination record. We are expecting more clarity on the rules and how it will be enforced."

A call centre agent at Saudia airlines said that they had not received any circulars from UAE immigration so far. "We have not received any intimation on what is required and how the rules will be enforced," she said. "So far, it is business as usual from our side."

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