Malaysia cancels Hajj for this year amid pandemic

Malaysian Hajj pilgrims gather in training days before their departure for Saudi Arabia in this June 30, 2018 file photo. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 12 June 2020

Malaysia cancels Hajj for this year amid pandemic

  • Hajj was postponed on account of the safety, health and well-being of Malaysians

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is not sending Hajj pilgrims to Makkah this year in light of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s Hajj starts around July  28 and the country was due to send about 31,600 pilgrims.

The decision to cancel was based on consultations with the Health Ministry of Malaysia and the Malaysian Hajj Pilgrims’ Fund Board (Tabung Haji), as well as with members of a special meeting of the Committee of the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs Malaysia that took place on June 9.

“The pilgrimage for all Malaysians for the Hajj season of Hijrah 1441 is postponed to next year,” Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, a minister in the prime minister’s office, said on Thursday at a press conference.

Al-Bakri said that the Hajj postponement to 2021 was made after taking into consideration the safety, health and well-being of Malaysians. Those with a furada visa —  a Hajj visa obtained directly from Saudi Arabia’s embassy — were also not allowed to go for Hajj this year.

BACKGROUND

The pandemic has caused a serious global health crisis. Coronavirus has infected 7.4 million people worldwide and resulted in more than 418,000 deaths. Malaysia has taken strict measures in curbing the spread of coronavirus, including enacting the Movement Control Order since March 16 and conducting mass testings for COVID-19 among migrant workers and refugees.

The pandemic has caused a serious global health crisis. Coronavirus has infected 7.4 million people worldwide and resulted in more than 418,000 deaths.

“Yesterday I invited and met with the Saudi Ambassador to Malaysia and handed the official letter of Hajj postponement for Malaysia to be presented to Dr. Mohammed Saleh bin Taher Benten, minister of Hajj and Umrah for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Malaysia has followed its Southeast Asia neighbors Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Brunei in canceling the Hajj pilgrimage for this year.

Malaysia has taken strict measures in curbing the spread of coronavirus, including enacting the Movement Control Order since March 16 and conducting mass testings for COVID-19 among migrant workers and refugees.

As a result Malaysia has managed to reduce new cases. It currently has a total of 8,369 cases, of which 7,065 have recovered.

Malaysia has gradually allowed most businesses and places of worship, including mosques, to open with strict observations of social distancing measures and guidelines.


Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

Updated 08 July 2020

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

  • Devastated family mourn latest victim of health system struggling to cope with outbreak

NEW DELHI: The death of an expectant mom and her unborn child after 13 hospitals in one day refused to treat her has put India’s strained health care system under the spotlight.

The devastated husband and 6-year-old child of eight-month pregnant Neelam Singh, 30, are still struggling to come to terms with the “unwarranted loss” a month after her agonizing death in an ambulance outside a hospital in New Delhi.

With more than 100,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Indian capital, Singh became another victim of a health system battling to cope with patient demand due to a lack of bed space and infrastructure.

That, however, has been little comfort for her family members who said they would never be able to overcome the trauma.

“Those 12 hours were the most traumatic experience of our lives, and we have to live with that trauma,” Shailendra Kumar, Singh’s brother-in-law, told Arab News on Tuesday. Singh had developed complications with her pregnancy on June 5, and Kumar said she was rushed to the same hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh where she had been going for regular checkups, but was turned away.

“Shivalik (hospital) gave no reason for refusing to admit her. Despite our pleadings, the hospital did not budge from its stand,” Kumar added.

A day-long ordeal ensued, with one hospital after the other unable to treat her. Eventually, she died in an ambulance some 35 kilometers away from her home in Khoda.

“I took her to 13 hospitals, both government and private facilities, and every one refused to admit her. The image of her writhing in pain will always haunt me,” said Kumar, who was accompanied by Singh’s husband. He added that the reasons provided varied from “high costs” to a lack of facilities.

“One hospital told me that I could not pay the high cost so better try my luck somewhere else. At Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida, I was asked to buy a coupon for COVID-19 treatment for 4,500 rupees ($60), which I did, but still, they refused her entry. It was not the loss of one life but two lives,” he said, referring to her unborn child.

He pointed out that the entire family was in a state of shock following her death with her husband “the worst impacted.”

Kumar filed a complaint against Shivalik and other hospitals but said so far “no action has been taken.”

A day after Singh’s death, the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, which Noida falls under, ordered an inquiry and issued instructions for all hospitals “to admit patients regardless of the nature of the case.”

However, 20 days later, on June 26, a similar incident was reported in the Dadri area of Noida.

On that occasion, 21-year-old Robin Bhati had developed a fever, and relatives had taken him to a nearby hospital where a week earlier he had been admitted suffering from influenza. However, the hospital refused to admit him and referred him to a different facility.

Five hours and four hospitals later, a city hospital agreed to take him in, but by then Bhati was already seriously ill and hours later he died after suffering a heart attack.

“We don’t know whether he was a COVID-19 patient or not, but why should hospitals refuse to admit a patient in need of immediate attention,” his uncle Jasveer Bhati told Arab News. A number of the Noida hospitals which allegedly denied admission to Singh and Bhati refused to comment on the cases.

In a statement on Monday, the office of Noida’s chief medical officer said: “Strict instructions have been given to all the private and government hospitals to admit all patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr. Loveleen Mangla, a pulmonologist working with Noida-based Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, said: “The government did not prepare itself to face this situation. Now the government is trying to create extra beds and medical facilities, but it’s late. They should have done this three months ago when the nationwide lockdown started.

“With the entire medical infrastructure overstretched and not many quality health workers available in the government hospitals, it’s a grim scenario now,” Mangla added.

With more than 723,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, India is now the world’s third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil, with approaching 21,000 people losing their lives.

And the problem is not unique to northern India.

On Saturday, the southern Indian city of Bangalore reported the case of 50-year-old Vasantha, who was rejected by 13 hospitals before she was accepted by the K.C. General Hospital where she eventually died.

Lalitha, a relative of Vasantha, said: “Some hospitals said they didn’t have beds; some said they didn’t have COVID-19 testing facilities, and that way we lost critical hours. She died because of a problem with her respiratory system.”

Experts have questioned whether health care facilities in India are being overstretched purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anant Bhan, a Delhi-based independent researcher in global health, policy and bioethics, said: “Is there a real shortage of beds or is it the shortage caused by lack of efficient management? If the cases increase further, we might find it difficult to provide care.”