Egyptian tourism companies organising Umrah pilgrimage trips are scrambling to accommodate would-be pilgrims after Saudi Arabia declared on Thursday that it is suspending all Umrah trips to the country to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
On Thursday evening, Egypt's Consumer Protection Authority said that tourism agents and airlines are obliged to refund Egyptian pilgrims whose trips have been cancelled in accordance with the consumer protection law.
Thousands of trip reservations for the Umrah will be cancelled in Egypt in the upcoming days.
In media statements on Thursday, the Egyptian Travel Agents Association said it is adhering to the Saudi decision and that it is currently working to ensure that Egyptians get refunds for their cancelled trips.
A source at a tourism company in Cairo, who asked to remain anonymous, told Ahram Online that, "We are giving pilgrims the option to either cancel their Umrah trips in exchange for a refund or to postpone their trips."
"Nevertheless, it must be taken into consideration that if they postpone the Umrah trips to next month, for example, it will be more expensive because it would be during the Islamic calendar months of Shaaban and Ramadan," the source said.
The Umrah pilgrimage's peak season began with the start of the Islamic month of Ragab, which commenced on Tuesday. The pilgrimage season will reach its highest point in the following two months Shaaban and Ramadan.
EgyptAir announced on Thursday the cancelation of all bookings for the Umrah pilgrimage until further notice.
Egypt's national airline said in a statement that it was fully committed to the Saudi decision, and that regular flights to and from Saudi Arabia will continue.
Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has set up a hotline to help citizens in a number of Islamic and Arabic countries, including Egypt, Algeria and Turkey, and to answer inquiries concerning the suspension.
According to the hotline, which was contacted by Ahram Online, the suspension of Umrah trips will last at least two weeks and may be extended further.
The Saudi ministry of Hajj and Umrah also asked the citizens to follow its Twitter account to keep up with updates concerning the suspension.