With several million Muslims from all over the world expected in Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage in late November, Saudi authorities are concerned that the event will facilitate the spread of pandemic (H1N1) 2009 among pilgrims.
Aside from the week-long Hajj, more than 2 million people go on pilgrimage to Mecca throughout the year (called ‘Umrah’), with extra numbers visiting in the holy month of Ramadan (from about 21 August to 19 September).
Saudi Arabia held a workshop at the end of June to discuss minimising the spread of the disease during Hajj season and urged all nations to postpone the pilgrimage this year for elderly people with chronic illnesses, children and pregnant women.
The workshop outlined general hygiene habits to reduce the risk of (H1N1) 2009 infection, such as washing hands with water and soap, covering the nose and mouth while sneezing and coughing, and wearing masks when visiting crowded places.
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 6 July update on pandemic (H1N1) 2009, the Middle East region has had 1,111 cases of the virus and no deaths.
|Country, territory and area||Total Number of cases|
|United Arab Emirates||8|
|West Bank and Gaza Strip||60|
Regional precautionary measures
Many countries in the region have started taking precautionary measures to control the spread of (H1N1) 2009 during and after the Hajj.
* Ali Al Baqqara, head of the Hajj medical committee at Bahrain’s Ministry of Health, called on people to postpone going to Hajj this year, particularly pregnant women, children, people above 60 and people suffering from blood disorders and genetic or chronic diseases.
* In Egypt, Health Minister Hatem Al-Gabali warned last month that Egyptian pilgrims could be quarantined upon their return from Hajj.
* Khalid Al-Sahlawi, secretary-general for Al-Hajj Mission in Kuwait, said that provided the (H1N1) 2009 vaccination is available in the country in early October, the priority for vaccination will be given to pilgrims.
* On 6 July, Oman banned sick elderly people and children from travelling to Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage for fear of contracting (H1N1) 2009, according to a health ministry statement. The ministry did not clarify whether the ban would be extended to cover the Hajj season as well.
* Jassim al-Kubeisi, deputy chairman of Qatar’s Hajj Committee, told Gulf Times on 11 July that the committee members would meet soon to discuss and take a decision on how to deal with Hajj and Umrah this year.
* Ziyad Maymash, assistant undersecretary for preventive medicine at the Saudi Ministry of Health, said a quarantine facility had been set up at airport arrival lounges to isolate Hajj and Umrah pilgrims with symptoms of (H1N1) 2009 infections.
* Ali Bin Shukr, Director General of the UAE Ministry of Health, said on 8 July that the government would launch an (H1N1) 2009 awareness campaign for people planning to perform Hajj or Umrah. Shukr said the ministry will coordinate with the General Authority for Islamic Affairs to engage imams in educating pilgrims during Friday prayers about ways to avoid contracting the virus.
Sources: Local media, health ministries, WHO