Cairo: More Muslim overseas pilgrims are landing in Saudi Arabia eager to attend the upcoming annual Hajj rituals for the first time in about two years as the kingdom has largely lifted restrictions earlier prompted by the COVID-19.
In April, Saudi Arabia said it would allow 1 million pilgrims from inside and outside the kingdom to perform this year’s Hajj due in July, after restricting the annual ritual to some thousands of Muslims living inside the country for the last two years due to the pandemic.
The first group of Muslim pilgrims, covered by a Saudi initiative facilitating Hajj procedures called the ‘Mecca Route’, arrived in the kingdom on Monday coming from Bangladesh.
What is the ‘Mecca Route’?
The pilgrims, benefiting from the ‘Mecca Route’ initiative, flew from Dhaka and landed at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in the Saudi city of Jeddah where they were received by Saudi and Bangladeshi officials.
Earlier this week, the Saudi Interior Ministry 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 coming from these 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.
On Saturday, the first batch of foreign pilgrims for this year’s Hajj arrived in Saudi Arabia flying from Indonesia. They arrived in the holy city of Medina aboard a flight carrying 358 pilgrims before heading to Mecca.
More than 10,000 pilgrims from abroad have flown into Medina from outside the kingdom, according to Saudi officials.
Saudi authorities are keen to expand harnessing of advanced technologies as part of preparations for this year’s Hajj.
Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al Rabiah said this week that the applied technologies would include the pilgrims’ smart IDs to ensure their fast transport among holy sites and to their stay places.
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.
Around 2.5 million Muslims from around the world used to attend Hajj in Saudi Arabia every year before the pandemic.