Hajj 2018: More than 2 million pilgrims begin journey of a lifetime

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Muslim pilgrims walk on a street in the holy city of Makkah on August 18, 2018, ahead of the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)
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A man pushes the wheelchair of a fellow pilgrim in a street in Makkah on August 18, 2018, ahead of the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)
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A pilgrim is pushed in a wheelchair on their way to offer prayers in the Grand Mosque in Makkah Aug. 18, 2018, ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
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Muslim pilgrims on their way to offer prayers in the Grand Mosque in Makkah Aug. 18, 2018, ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
Updated 19 August 2018

Hajj 2018: More than 2 million pilgrims begin journey of a lifetime

  • Massive safety and security operation swings into action as annual Hajj begins
  • The Hajj is an unparalleled logistical operation, with statistics to match. The Saudi Ministry of Health alone has employed nearly 30,000 physicians, pharmacists, nurses and technicians to provide health care to the pilgrims

MAKKAH: The number of pilgrims in Saudi Arabia passed two million on Saturday, Saudi security chiefs said, as the country finished preparations for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to begin on Sunday.

A final tally will be announced at the beginning of Eid Al-Adha on Tuesday, said Interior Ministry security spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki.

The pilgrims have flown in from almost every country in the world, but all had a similar story to tell — this is the experience of a lifetime.

“This is the first time I have seen the Grand Mosque and the Kaaba. It is the best feeling of my life to be able to perform the Hajj,” said Hisham Mostafa, 50, an accountant from Aleppo who fled the war in Syria five years ago and now lives in Turkey.

Nayef Ahmed, 37, from Yemen, sold a plot of land to be able to afford to travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj. “Because of the war the cost was very high. But being here I feel comfort and peace and I pray to God for the war to end,” he said.

Najwa, 59, from Tunisia, said: “I came for Umrah in 2007 and today after 10 years of registering and waiting, I am here. I cannot describe the feeling. I cry every day.”

Over the next few days the pilgrims will retrace the steps of the Prophet Muhammad 14 centuries ago — and their safety and security are a Saudi priority.

“We will prevent any actions that are not part of the Hajj ritual and any act that may impact the safety of pilgrims or their ability to perform the rite,” Al-Turki said.

To ensure their safety, pilgrims will wear electronic identification bracelets, connected to GPS. “There is a comprehensive electronic agenda for every pilgrim and we have provided many apps that offer guidance,” said the Minister of Haj and Umrah, Mohammed Salih Bentin.

“We have a fleet of more than 18,000 buses, all of them linked to a control system that tracks their path.”

The Hajj is an unparalleled logistical operation, with statistics to match. The Saudi Ministry of Health alone has employed nearly 30,000 physicians, pharmacists, nurses and technicians to provide health care to the pilgrims.

The Saudi Red Crescent is operating 127 emergency centers, 361 ambulance cars and 20 emergency motorcycles, with nearly 2,000 staff on duty in Makkah and Madinah.

There will be 22 operational hospitals in Madinah and the holy sites, and 15 temporary emergency centers, supported by a fleet of nearly 90 ambulances and more than 650 paramedics.


Saudi airports welcome back passengers after two-month hiatus

Updated 25 min 10 sec ago

Saudi airports welcome back passengers after two-month hiatus

  • Social distancing and face masks required in aircraft
  • Two local flights to be added daily to restore capacity 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is welcoming the return of aircraft and passengers amid strict precautionary measures to counter the spread of coronavirus.
The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) on Sunday opened 11 of the Kingdom’s 28 airports in a step toward restoring normality to everyday activities.
All flights and means of travel between Saudi cities ground to a halt on March 21.
“The progressive and gradual reopening aims at controlling the crowd inside airports because we want to achieve the highest health efficiency,” GACA spokesman Ibrahim bin Abdullah Alrwosa told Arab News.
He said that two local flights would be added daily until all routes returned to their normal capacity, during which time GACA would increase the capacity of aircrafts as decided by relevant committees. 
GACA has issued a travel guide for passengers, detailing what steps have been taken by authorities to ensure public health and safety and what obligations are on passengers. 
A decision about the return of international flights was up to authorities, he said. 
“I call on all travelers, both Saudis and residents, to read this guide and to look at the information and details in it because the travel decision depends on it,” the spokesman added.
Passengers found to violate any of the terms and conditions will not be allowed to complete the check-in process as per the new travel procedures.
The new terms include the use of e-tickets and passengers will not be allowed to enter airport premises without one. Purchasing tickets inside airport grounds is currently not an option because booking services for airline sales are currently closed.
Wearing a face mask is a prerequisite for airport access and any individual who fails to wear a face mask will be denied entry to the airport.
Passengers under the age of 15 will not be allowed to travel unaccompanied.
The Ministry of Health has set up temperature checkpoints inside the airport and passengers recording a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or higher will be denied entry in order to ensure their safety and the safety of other passengers.
Social distancing inside the airport has been adopted at entrances, exits, at seating areas and bridges leading to airplanes.
There will be social distancing on the aircraft, with an empty seat between each passenger, according to recommendations from the Ministry of Health, which stipulated that there must be social distancing.
“We want to make airports a safe environment to achieve a safe flight. There is another important issue, which is a well-known social tradition. There are many people at the airport who come to say goodbye to their loved ones or receive them. We will not allow the presence of people who do not have tickets in the airports, in order to ensure the safety of passengers,” said the GACA spokesman.
He said that passenger cooperation and compliance played a key role in the successful restart of flights.
“We rely on citizens and passengers, locals and residents alike, to help us implement preventive measures and to comply with the health rules recommended by the Ministry of Health.”