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JEDDAH: The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has shared some of the secrets behind what made the extraordinary Hajj 2020 season a success, with zero cases of the COVID-19 pandemic being transmitted.

In an exclusive interview for Arab News, the Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten said the government used the latest technology to improve the pilgrims experience this season.
Speaking about the efforts of his ministries in preventing the spread of COVID-19, Benten said she implemented preventive measures at every stage of the pilgrimage, starting with the pilgrims who were in quarantine at home.
He also introduced institutional quarantine from the fourth to the eighth day of Hajj, gave pilgrims electronic bracelets, and implemented social distancing.
For the second year in a row, the ministry used the electronic platform through the smart card application, taking into account the special needs of pilgrims in terms of organizing and managing trips, he said. The platform is a digital ID given to the pilgrim that is directly linked to the ministry-supervised Smart Hajj app.
He added that the digital ID contains the pilgrims’ personal, health and accommodation information, such as their group numbers, and which seats and bus bed are assigned to them.
It also enables pilgrims to get to know their particular schedule, point collection and departure time. Furthermore, the ministry registered the pilgrims electronically using an interactive platform that connects 52 systems and is complemented by 30 governmental and non-governmental bodies, he added.
Relying on those services, the minister said, came as part of the ministries’ strategy to create virtual platforms that reduce procedures and keep pace with the technical development required to achieve the Saudi Vision 2030 goal of serving pilgrims.
As each Hajj season has its challenges, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has enjoyed success after success. However, the 2020 season put the ministry to an unprecedented test.
As every year, Saudi Arabia uses all its potential and energies to make the Hajj season a success, giving priority to the safety and security of the pilgrims.

acceleratingFACTS

When Saudi Arabia made the decision to observe Hajj for a limited number of people, it was eager to observe all health and precautions.

This step was taken on the basis of scientific decisions and detailed research studies that would ensure that pilgrims could perform Hajj rituals safely.

The Ministry and all Hajj-related authorities have learned many lessons from the recent Hajj experience, where social distancing was applied.

In recent years, however, Haxhi was a little different, as the whole world was facing the COVID-19 explosion. During the 2020 Hajj season, the Saudi government faced a rare and unprecedented challenge and thank God the Kingdom was able to address it, he said.
He added: When Saudi Arabia made the decision to observe Hajj for a limited number of people, it was inclined to respect all health and preventive measures. This step was taken on the basis of scientific decisions and detailed research studies that would ensure that pilgrims could perform Hajj rituals safely.
He said that the efforts made by the Saudi government in this regard and the various facilities provided to pilgrims at various levels were highly appreciated, most notably the health warnings of social distancing and compliance with health requirements.
The Ministry and all Hajj-related authorities have learned many lessons from the recent Hajj experience, where social distancing was applied. The Minister shed light on the most outstanding lessons and how they can benefit in the coming seasons.
The ministry implemented social distancing protocols at all stages of pilgrims moving between shrines by limiting bus landing capacity to 50 per cent, Benten said.
As for the place of pilgrimage, officials conducted tests for all pilgrims and workers and appointed health monitors to ensure compliance with the instructions.
He added: Moreover, buses with 49 seats were assigned to each group of 22 passengers, and Hajj routes were assigned in a way to achieve social distancing. These measures resulted in zero transmission of COVID-19 between pilgrims and their service providers.
As many government officials have said in the past, preparations for the next Hajj season begin as soon as the previous iteration is completed.
One of the advantages of the extraordinary 2020 season was that the ministry could speed up projects in the holy sites.
Benten told Arab News that his ministry works every year to develop the services provided to pilgrims, to enrich their experience through the provision of various programs and initiatives.
The ministry always benefits from accumulated experiences, large-scale projects and staff to provide the best services with the best levels for pilgrims, he said. One of the initiatives that benefited the ministry, which will continue to implement it in the future, is the preparation and improvement of shrines, the preparation of a comprehensive scheme to expand capacity and to host the largest number of pilgrims in in order to achieve the dimensions of comfort, safety, security and environment, reduce pollution and study the spatial dimensions.
He added that the ministry aims for a record reception of pilgrims through the unified data analysis center, increasing the efficiency of crowd control and rapid intervention, reducing the time to organize pilgrims and distribute them evenly.
Hajj and Umrah companies have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; with some failing to meet their obligations to their employees.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has provided a host of facilities for these companies since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic by developing work and encouraging mergers and investments in Umrah companies, Benten said.
He added that the ministry has also contributed to reducing the financial security value for deactivating Umrah active enterprises to SR 250,000 ($ 66,666) for six months.
The ministry also authorized Umrah companies to reduce their capital in the commercial register to SR 500,000 ($ 133,332), close their doors for one year and defer payment of non-core violations for six months, Benten said.
The ministry launched the Business Clinics unit, which is one of its programs aimed at helping companies review their mechanisms and operational plans.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah will also organize many workshops and training programs for Umrah companies on strategies to recover from the COVID-19 crisis and tools to develop their business efficiently, he concluded.

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