The Central government has issued new guidelines for Haj 2021 that limit the age of pilgrims allowed to travel to 65 years because of COVID-19 pandemic.
However, it is yet unclear whether the next Haj will take place as Saudi Arabia has not yet taken a final call on the matter.
The guidelines, released by Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi at Haj House in Mumbai on Saturday, will be subject to final guidelines/norms as decided by Saudi Arabia in due course.
As part of the new guidelines, keeping in mind the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on senior citizens, the age of pilgrims has been restricted between 18 and 65 years.
The embarkation points for the pilgrimage have been reduced to 10 from the earlier 21. The embarkation points are Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Cochin, Delhi, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai and Srinagar.
The new protocol also requires that each pilgrim submit a negative RT-PCR test certificate before leaving for Saudi Arabia. The test has to be conducted by an approved laboratory 72 hours prior to boarding a flight to Saudi Arabia.
The first batch of pilgrims is expected to depart for Saudi Arabia on June 26, 2021, and the last flight is expected to take off on July 13, 2021. The return phase will begin from August 14, 2021.
Registration for the pilgrimage began on Saturday and the deadline is December 10, 2020. The applicants can apply online, off-line or through the government’s Haj mobile application.
Naqvi, the minister said that national-international Protocol Guidelines would be implemented and followed during the Haj 2021. Strict norms for fitness, accommodation, period of stay, transportation and health of the pilgrims will be implemented.
According to an IANS report, pilgrims will also be vaccinated on May 15-16, 2021, though the report did not specify which vaccines would be used.
The pilgrimage was suspended this year due to the ongoing pandemic. A full refund was initiated by the government after the cancellation.
The guidelines for the pilgrimage were framed after deliberations between the ministries of minority affairs, health, external affairs, civil aviation; the Haj Committee of India; Indian Embassy in Saudi Arabia and India’s Consul General in Jeddah.
With inputs from agencies