Volunteers step up to provide services to worshipers in Makkah

Time: 17 November 2020

MAKKAH: The Saudi Red Crescent Authority (SRCA) has confirmed that a large number of people have stepped up this year to volunteer in Makkah’s Grand Mosque, eager to serve pilgrims after months of the mosque’s closure due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Only a small number of volunteers were taken in, however, due to the need to maintain social distancing and ensure the safety of pilgrims.

Director of the voluntary work at the SRCA in Makkah, Hanaa Al-Shamrani, told Arab News that in the first week of Umrah, volunteers were eager to serve pilgrims.

“Applications were received from all Saudi cities and towns without exception, but due to the current circumstances, the SRCA only accepted applications from Makkah to provide quality services in line with predefined health protocols,” she said.

Over 300 volunteers, including doctors, engineers and health practitioners, are providing first-aid services and raising awareness among pilgrims regarding the measures necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, such as observing social distance and wearing masks.

Volunteers speak Urdu, English, and Turkish, among other languages they have acquired over the years by coming into contact with pilgrims during the Hajj and Umrah seasons in Makkah.

“First-aid services are mainly provided for patients with diabetes and blood pressure issues, as well as those who have been exposed to heat stress and sunstrokes and those suffering from small wounds,” said Al-Shamrani. “Volunteers deal with these cases in a very professional manner, and serious cases are sent to nearby hospitals.”

She added that before the pandemic, volunteers used to distribute gifts to pilgrims, including prayer beads, rugs and light snacks, but this is no longer possible due to the virus.

SRCA Spokesman Abdul Aziz Badamoan told Arab News that its voluntary team started working in the Grand Mosque on Friday, in four different locations, with 20 female and 26 male volunteers.

“Volunteers have been providing various services in all the mosque’s corners, covering the halls, squares and prayer places allocated for women,” he said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia receives first foreign pilgrims in 7 months

02/11/20

Mohammed Saleh Benten (2nd-L), Minister of Hajj and Umrah, welcomes Pakistani travellers arriving in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah on Sunday. (AFP)

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10k foreign pilgrims arrive on first day of Umrah resumption

01/11/20

As per protocol, 500 groups of international pilgrims are dispersed throughout the day, each with 20 pilgrims. (SPA/file)

They can stay for up to 10 days, three of which are in isolation
MAKKAH: Some 10,000 international pilgrims are arriving in Saudi Arabia after a seven-month hiatus to perform Umrah and visit the Prophet’s mosque on the first day of the third stage of the resumption of Umrah.

According to Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, the 10,000 pilgrims arriving from abroad must first obtain a permit. Upon arrival, pilgrims must isolate for three days before being transported to Miqat sites, principle boundaries at which pilgrims intending to perform Umrah must change into Ihrams.
They can stay in the Kingdom for up to 10 days, three of which are in isolation. As per protocol, 500 groups of international pilgrims are dispersed throughout the day, each with 20 pilgrims. The maximum age limit for international pilgrims is set at 50.
The deputy minister added that countries are subject to continuous evaluation by the Saudi Center for Disease Prevention and Control and the Ministry of Health as part of the government’s approved standards and protocols. Visas for pilgrims arriving from countries that are seeing a noticeable increase in numbers will be placed on hold until further assessment.

FASTFACT
More than 1.4 million are using the Eatmarna app as downloads near 3 million. One million permits have been issued for performing prayers and Umrah.

With the start of the third stage, the holy mosques will be working at 100 percent operation, a pivotal stage for companies in the sector. Al-Maddah added that if at any stage there is a cause for concern or danger to pilgrims, the ministry will evaluate the situation and return to previous stages and decrease capacity.
Currently, Saudia is the only certified airline allowed to transport pilgrims to and from the Kingdom. Pilgrims arriving from countries from which the carrier does not operate must arrange through a third party, accounted for by the Kingdom.
Pilgrims must have a health guide provided by Umrah companies to monitor each group throughout their visit. Pilgrims must also have full health insurance that includes emergency treatment if infected and a possible PCR test.

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Around 10,000 foreign pilgrims per week expected for Umrah

26/10/20

  • Pilgrims arriving from abroad will be divided into groups of at least 50 pilgrims

MAKKAH: November will bring relief for the more than 500 Umrah companies in the Kingdom that have been badly affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has laid out the guidelines for receiving pilgrims from outside the Kingdom, to be applied from Nov. 1, in its phased resumption of Umrah services.
And now Saudia airline has announced the reopening of 33 travel destinations, most of which are green countries where COVID-19 is not spreading and preventive measures are being successfully implemented.
Ahmed Bajaifer, an investor in Umrah companies, said that an estimated 10,000 pilgrims will arrive each week in Saudi Arabia, adding that the Umrah companies can easily handle this number while applying preventive measures.
The ministry will only allow pilgrims between 18 and 50 years old to come for Umrah, in line with the requirements of the Ministry of Health. They must present a PCR test certificate proving that they have tested negative for COVID-19. The certificate must be issued by a trusted laboratory in the pilgrim’s country no more than 72 hours before departure.

HIGHLIGHT

Pilgrims must book their Umrah and prayers at the Two Holy Mosques, including visits to the Prophet’s Mosque and prayers in the Prophet’s Chamber. All bookings can be done through the Eatmarna app.

Pilgrims must book their Umrah and prayers at the Two Holy Mosques, including visits to the Prophet’s Mosque and prayers in the Prophet’s Chamber. All bookings can be done through the Eatmarna app.
They are also required to have confirmed return flights that suit their Umrah programs.
The mandatory components of the service package for each pilgrim include booking accommodation that provides three full-board meals for the quarantine period, which should be at least three days, and transport from the port to the accommodation. They must also have a comprehensive insurance policy.
Pilgrims arriving from abroad will be divided into groups of at least 50 pilgrims. Unified programs must be booked for the groups, including all services that match the date of their booking to perform Umrah and visit the Two Holy Mosques.
A guide will be appointed for each group, and the Saudi agent will be obliged to provide the contracted service packages.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Worshippers’ safety is Saudi Arabia’s top priority, says Hajj minister

Time: 20 October 2020  

Hajj and Umrah Minister Dr. Mohammed Saleh Benten. (AFP)
  • Benten said the gradual resumption of Umrah was taken after studying the global situation

JEDDAH: Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Dr. Mohammed Saleh Benten said on Monday health, safety, and security of worshippers are at the top of the government’s priorities.
Speaking at an online seminar titled “Umrah amid simple procedures and strict precaution,” he said the Saudi authorities are making concerted efforts to serve worshippers without compromising on their safety. Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, head of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques and Deputy Hajj Minister Dr. Abdulfattah Mashat also attended the seminar.
“All government entities have been collectively working to ensure that Umrah pilgrims have registered with the Tawakkalna app. They follow up to make sure that visitors have not recently mixed with anyone who has coronavirus or developed any COVID-19 symptoms,” Benten said.
Benten said the gradual resumption of Umrah was taken after studying the global situation. He said the reintroduction of limits on Umrah pilgrims cannot be ruled out. He said it all depended on the number of infections around the world.
“We are in close contact with the Health Ministry, and if we detect any danger, we will immediately change our plans. However, we may increase the numbers of visitors if we witness a drop in COVID-19 cases,” he added.
The minister concluded that opening Umrah for international visitors would be an extraordinary decision. “No country has so far announced to receive such a huge number of visitors during the pandemic. Once approved, Saudi Arabia will be the only country to take such an initiative.”
Al-Sudais highlighted the measures taken to help pilgrims perform rituals in a safe environment without any hassles.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Umrah app will increase competition, enrich pilgrim experience, says a Saudi official

Time: 24 September 2020

The first phase of the gradual return will include allowing citizens and expatriates from within the Kingdom to perform Umrah at a capacity of 30% from Oct. 4. (Supplied)
  • External agents who used to control everything will no longer do so

MAKKAH: The Kingdom’s new Umrah app will create a competitive business environment that will improve pilgrim services and enrich the pilgrim experience, according to a senior ministry official.
I’tamarna is aimed at enforcing health standards amid the COVID-19 pandemic and making it easier for people to book their journeys. It also offers booking services that pilgrims can use ahead of their arrival in Makkah for accommodation, transport and recreation.
Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, chief planning and strategy officer at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, said that the app’s launch should push companies to provide people with a broader and better range of services.
“When we provide high quality services at competitive prices, the pilgrim will find himself drawn to these companies, especially when companies work hard to provide the best services at a competitive price to local pilgrims,” Al-Maddah told Arab News.
He added that external agents who used to control everything related to Umrah will no longer do so as they were just agents and did not own facilities. Their job was to represent and market Umrah companies abroad.
According to Al-Maddah, new measures had fixed this problem and organized the relation between Umrah companies and their external agents to be strictly marketing-based.
“The newly adopted measures will free Umrah companies and motivate them, especially at a time when bookings are being performed through several electronic platforms. This allows foreign pilgrims to directly deal with Umrah companies through the phone, the app and additional means other than the external agents. This will liberate the Umrah companies and improve their performance, allowing them to market their services inside and outside the Kingdom.”
Saudi Arabia said earlier this week that it would start allowing pilgrims to perform Umrah in phased return, while taking the necessary precautions. The decision was made after assessing the developments of the pandemic and in response to the desire of Muslims around the world to perform the ritual.

FASTFACT

I’tamarna offers booking services that pilgrims can use ahead of their arrival in Makkah for accommodation, transport and recreation. Pilgrims can download the app on Sept. 28.

“The launch of the app came due to the coronavirus pandemic, its repercussions and preventive measures that require specifying the number of pilgrims,” Al-Maddah said. “There is a capacity that should not be exceeded. This is what prevents the overcrowding of holy sites and limits the spread of the virus among pilgrims.”
He said that the operational capacity was calculated through the Ministry of Health’s Tawakkalna app, with the pilgrim using I’tamarna to book an Umrah appointment that was time-specific and accompanied by anti-coronavirus preventive measures.
The first phase of the gradual return will include allowing citizens and expatriates from within the Kingdom to perform Umrah at a capacity of 30 percent from Oct. 4, the equivalent of 6,000 pilgrims per day.
The second will increase the capacity of the Grand Mosque to 75 percent, which would include 15,000 pilgrims and 40,000 worshippers a day from Oct. 18.
In the third phase, pilgrims from abroad would be allowed to perform Umrah from Nov. 1 with a capacity of 20,000 pilgrims and 60,000 worshippers per day.
The fourth stage will see the Grand Mosque return to normal, when all COVID-19 risks have gone away. Pilgrims can download the app on Sept. 28.

This article was first published in Arab News

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450k Umrah pilgrims sent back home amid pandemic

Time: 29 May, 2020

Over 60,000 pilgrims were sent back to their home countries through special flights during the five-day Eid holiday. (AFP)
  • Around 1,500 pilgrims, who were stranded in the country, also left in April.

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah facilitated the return of as many as 450,000 Umrah pilgrims safely to their countries as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Over 60,000 pilgrims were sent back to their home countries through special flights during the five-day Eid holiday, in a first such operation since the suspension of international flights in the Kingdom on March 15.

Around 1,500 pilgrims, who were stranded in the country, also left in April in collaboration with the ministries of foreign affairs, health and interior.

Another 40,000 pilgrims were brought to Makkah from Madinah with the help of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, to complete their rituals.

The ministry also played host to about 2,000 pilgrims, who were not able to go back to their home countries due to the suspension of international flights.

The suspension of Umrah and international flights continues until further notice.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Passport offices open at Jeddah airport to handle Umrah pilgrims

05/06/20

RIYADH: Passport offices at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah opened on Sunday, finalizing the procedures for Umrah pilgrims whose visas have expired and who have overstayed, and who have also applied through the online platform of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.

A royal order has been issued to exempt Umrah pilgrims who have overstayed from the legal effects, financial penalties, and from being placed on the list of deportees (the deportee fingerprint) and to ensure their return to their countries under the supervision of the committee responsible for overstaying pilgrims and those who wish to travel.

The passport offices said that in cooperation with the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, the Ministry of Health, the General Authority of Civil Aviation, and the competent operational authorities at King Abdul Aziz International Airport, travelers had been received and their departure procedures completed while applying preventive measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia gives Umrah pilgrims who exceed visa opportunity to apply for ‘exemption’

24/03/20

Pilgrims who exceeded their Umrah visa can submit an exemption request to the ministry’s website. (Reuters)
 
  • Pilgrims who exceeded their Umrah visa can submit an exemption request to the ministry’s website

RIYADH: The General Directorate of Passports in Saudi Arabia has said Umrah pilgrims who have exceeded their visa period can apply for an ‘exemption’ to avoid penalties. 

A statement released by the directorate in coordination with the Ministry of Hajj said, pilgrims who exceeded their Umrah visa can submit an exemption request to the ministry’s website.

 

The request includes an exemption from the legal implications and financial penalties involved in delaying their departure. The form should be submitted no later than Saturday, March 28. 

The statement added that the relevant authorities will arrange return flights for the pilgrims.

The authorities will inform the pilgrims of the details and timings of their flights via text to their registered phone numbers.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Ministry: Over 2.7 million Umrah visas issued so far

11/01/20

2,716,858 Umrah visas have been issued since the beginning of this year’s Umrah season. (SPA)
  • 2,716,858 Umrah visas have been issued since the beginning of this year’s Umrah season.

JEDDAH: The official statistics of the Umrah indicator have shown that 2,716,858 Umrah visas have been issued since the beginning of this year’s Umrah season.
According to these statistics, 2,412,572 pilgrims have arrived in the Kingdom, while 2,037,631 have already left Saudi Arabia after performing their Umrah.
The numbers also showed that 2,272,163 pilgrims arrived by air, 133,110 arrived by land and 7,299 arrived by sea.Those who arrived included 568,536 Pakistanis, 505,217 Indonesians, 292,822 Indians, 137,834 Egyptians, 124,951 Malaysians, 94,854 Turks, 90,894 Bangladeshis and 89,006 Algerians.

This article was first published in Arab News

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