BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government will allow Bruneians to travel to Saudi Arabia in 2022 for the Haj and Umrah pilgrimage after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

The minister of religious affairs said on Monday that intending pilgrims must apply for a travel permit from the Prime Minister’s Office before making the journey to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

“The number of pilgrims will be determined at a later date, subject to … our readiness and ability to handle pilgrims’ health while they are in the holy land,” YB Pehin Dato Hj Badaruddin Hj Othman said during the daily COVID press briefing.

The decision to allow Bruneians to perform the Islamic pilgrimage comes after the Saudi government announced that fully vaccinated foreign nationals will be allowed into the country to perform the Umrah year-round.

However, the annual Haj pilgrimage — which falls next July — will only proceed once Riyadh has given the green light.

Earlier this year, the Saudi government allowed 60,000 vaccinated Muslims living in the country to perform the Haj, but has not allowed foreigners to take part for the past two years.

Before the pandemic struck, more than 2 million Muslims gathered in Mecca and Medina to perform Haj rituals and usher in the Muslim holiday of Aidil Adha.

YB Pehin Dato Hj Badaruddin said the Haj Affairs Department and travel agencies can make early preparations while waiting for the Saudi government’s decision.

Brunei has appointed six travel agencies to operate Haj and Umrah travel packages until 2023: Darussalam Holdings, Straits Central Agencies, Syarikat Raudah Al-Amin, Continental Yachting, Dar El-Ehsan Travel and Syarikat Al-Hijrah Travel & Tours.

Saudi Arabia is currently not one of the four countries included in the Brunei government’s green travel list. This means that travellers returning from Saudi will not be eligible for quarantine exemptions upon their return to Brunei.