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Pilgrims getting access at the Mecca Route" initiative before leaving their home country for Saudi Arabia Image Credit: SPA

Cairo: The first batch of Pakistani pilgrims, benefitting from a Saudi plan facilitating Hajj procedures, flew into the kingdom as preparations are in full swing for next month’s annual pilgrimage.

The group, covered by the “Mecca Route” initiative, landed on Thursday at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in the Saudi city of Jeddah coming from Islamabad, the Saudi news agency SPA reported.

They were welcomed by representatives of the agencies engaged in implementing the initiative, SPA added without specifying the number of the pilgrim arrivals.

Saudi Interior Ministry has recently relaunched the “Mecca Route” initiative that gives pilgrims from five countries access to facilities including finalising Hajj-related procedures in their home countries.

The initiative, which kicked off on a trial basis in 2017, covers pilgrims from Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco and Bangladesh.

Facilities offered to pilgrims in the five countries include issuance of electronic visas at home, finalising passport procedures as well as tagging and sorting out luggage at the departure airports.

Accordingly, on arrival in Saudi Arabia, those pilgrims head directly to their residences in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina while their luggage are delivered right to their stay places.

Saudi Arabia has said it will allow 1 million pilgrims from inside and outside the kingdom to perform this year’s Hajj, after restricting the annual ritual to some thousands of Muslims living inside the country for the last two years due to the pandemic.

Eligible pilgrims this year must be under 65, fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and present a negative PCR test result of a sample collected within 72 hours from departure to the kingdom.

About 2.5 million Muslims from around the world used to attend Hajj in Saudi Arabia every year before the pandemic.