Saudi Arabia has developed and introduced several new services for the upcoming hajj season in 2023 to ensure a smooth and comfortable performance of the fifth pillar of Islam. These services align with advancements in technology, digitalization programs, and artificial intelligence. The most anticipated announcement for Muslims around the world this season is the lifting of the restrictions imposed three years ago to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, previously stated that the 2023 hajj pilgrimage would have no conditions or restrictions, similar to before the Covid-19 pandemic. Following the removal of restrictions, Saudi Arabia announced that it would accept over two million pilgrims from 160 countries. The number of umrah pilgrims this year has also increased by 30% compared to the previous year. The Saudi government has allowed hajj missions from around the world to contract with authorized companies to provide hajj services in Saudi Arabia. The cost of insurance for hajj pilgrims has decreased by 73% this year. The insurance price for hajj pilgrims has been reduced from SR109 (RM136) to SR29 (RM36.16), and for umrah from SR235 (RM293) to SR88 (RM109.73), a decrease of 63%. This hajj season has seen significant changes in the expansion of services. Some services were announced for the first time this season, including easy payment options for hajj packages, which greatly facilitate the hajj pilgrimage. In addition, the Makkah Road initiative, aimed at providing high-quality services during the hajj pilgrimage to help pilgrims complete immigration procedures from their home countries easily, has been expanded to countries such as Turkey and Ivory Coast. For the convenience of hajj pilgrims and to meet their needs, the General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs has provided the highest and largest number of qualified cadres in its history to offer hajj services this year. The number of employees in the Two Holy Mosques has reached 14,000 fully qualified male and female workers. A total of 1,350 inspection visits will be conducted this season at all hajj-related sites to ensure air quality, protect and monitor water sources, and preserve the areas from pollution. For the first time this season, sound levels will be monitored and controlled to maintain a peaceful and comfortable environment for pilgrims throughout the hajj period. Pilgrims will enjoy the hajj pilgrimage this year with various transportation options that ensure easy movement in the holy sites. The General Authority for Transport (TGA) provides 1,000 electric scooters as a service to pilgrims to facilitate their movement in the holy sites. The authority has allocated special lanes for e-scooters, separating them from other vehicles and pedestrians to ensure the safety of hajj pilgrims. These tracks consist of two-way lanes, spanning two kilometers, starting from the Kadana station and ending with the Mahbas Al-Jin tunnel, leading to the Bab Ali station at the Masjid al-Haram. For the first time, TGA has also launched a trial of driverless electric buses to serve hajj pilgrims this season, aiming to provide innovative modern technology for sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation. The driverless buses operate using AI, cameras, and sensors to run autonomously along designated routes. Each bus has 11 seats, operates for six hours per charge, and can reach speeds of up to 30 km/h.
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