The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has declared that the numbers of pilgrims to perform Hajj this year would be the same before the onset of COVID-19 pandemic.
About 2.5 million people took part in the Hajj exercise in 2019.
After the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the Kingdom’s authorities allowed only 1,000 domestic pilgrims to participate in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.
The following year, the Kingdom upped the total to 60,000 fully vaccinated Saudi residents.
In 2022, Saudi Arabia increased Hajj pilgrimage capacity to one million, allowing both foreign and domestic pilgrims to participate in the exercise.
The Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Dr Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, said the kingdom would scrap all age requirements for pilgrims after three years of restrictions.
He spoke at the opening ceremony of “Expo Hajj”, the conference and exhibition of Hajj and Umrah services, which concluded on Thursday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
He also disclosed the reduction of Umrah pilgrims’ insurance by 63 per cent from SR235 (N28,265) to SR88 (N10,584) and Hajj pilgrims’ insurance reduced by 73 per cent from SR109 (N13,110) to SR29 (N3,488).
The minister said Umrah visa has been extended from 30 days to 90 days and allows its holder to move around the kingdom.
He said, “Any visitor to the kingdom with any type of visa can perform the Umrah and visit Madinah. We worked with partners to enrich the cultural experience after performing the rituals and developing and activating Islamic historical sites related to the Prophet’s biography.”
He said the kingdom was working on rehabilitation of 100 Islamic historical sites during the upcoming years, adding that over SR200 billion ($53.2bn) has been expended on the expansion of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, making it the largest construction project in history.
Meanwhile, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has commended Saudi authorities for the timely release of general guidelines and rules of engagement guiding the 2023 Hajj.
NAHCON, in a statement, said the strategic meetings it had with the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has allowed it to make vital and critical steps in the areas of enlightenment, transportation and logistics.
The commission’s Assistant Director Information and Publications, Mousa Ubandawaki, said discussion between the two sides centred on pilgrims’ orientation, security, safety, flight schedule and movements.
He said NAHCON’s commissioner of Planning, Research, Statistics, Information and Library Services, Sheikh Suleman Mommoh, thanked the government of Saudi Arabia for restoring the 95,000 Hajj slots to Nigeria for 2023.
Daily Trust reports that the 4-day Hajj and Umrah expo was attended by over 400 participants, including private tour operators and Hajj missions across the world.
Jeddah airport starts free shuttle service to Holy Mosque
King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah has launched a free shuttle service for pilgrims.
The new service will take pilgrims from Terminal 1 at the airport to the Grand Mosque in Makkah, the airport announced on Twitter.
“Beneficiaries of the service must wear the Ihram and produce the national ID for Saudis or the passport for foreigners.”
Trips will depart from the airport every two hours, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and will depart from the Grand Mosque every two hours, from 12 noon to 12 midnight.
By Faruk Shuaibu with agency report