In a momentous development, the Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, announced the return of Hajj pilgrim numbers to pre-COVID-19 levels.
During a press conference, Al-Rabiah stated that “there are no age restrictions for pilgrims in this year’s Hajj season 2023”, indicating that this year’s Hajj comes after a three-year suspension of the pilgrimage in its normal form, according to the Saudi Press Agency, SPA.
This announcement signifies a significant step towards normalcy and brings immense joy to the global Muslim community which has had to adapt its religious practices due to pandemic constraints.
The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, has been dramatically impacted by the global health crisis, with Saudi Arabia imposing strict controls on the number of pilgrims and implementing stringent health protocols over the last three years.
Al-Rabiah reviewed the early planning and preparation for this year’s Hajj, as well as electronic services to facilitate the pilgrim’s journey, new developments in organizing Hajj, and the facilities that contribute to enabling the arrival of Umrah pilgrims.
He emphasized that this year witnessed the implementation of virtual Hajj experiences for the first time to ensure greater efficiency. He pointed out that this Hajj will witness the return of the pilgrim numbers to the pre-pandemic period and that there will be no age restrictions.
The Minister noted that there has been a decrease of 39 percent in the prices of Hajj services. He said 1.4 million pilgrims benefited from the economy package, adding that competition contributed to enhancing quality and reducing prices.
Al-Rabiah indicated that pilgrims from 58 countries in Europe, the Americas, and Australia were allowed to apply online through a unified platform in seven languages, in addition to the possibility of choosing the appropriate package with the advantage of lower prices.
The minister pointed to a decrease in comprehensive insurance costs from SR235 to SR88, without changing the existing services and coverage.
He stressed that the developments that took place in facilitating the arrival of pilgrims included an increase in the number of pilgrims by 30 percent from the highest number previously achieved. It will increase further in the coming years, in addition to extending the Umrah visa to 90 days from 30 days earlier.
Al-Rabiah said the Kingdom spent hundreds of billions of riyals to serve the guests of God. “We have prepared a clear and coordinated plan to organize the process of dispatching pilgrims with Hajj companies to ensure the ease of movement between the holy sites,” he added.