RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Saturday urged the elderly and chronically ill Muslims not to perform the annual hajj pilgrimage to curb the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus that has killed 38 in the kingdom.
The health ministry issued a set of conditions for people wanting to perform the annual hajj, which this year falls in October, or the year-round umra or minor pilgrimage.
They recommend postponing the umra and hajj this year "for the elderly and those suffering chronic illnesses, like heart, kidney, respiratory diseases, and diabetes".
People with immunity deficiency, as well as children and pregnant women were also listed according to a ministry statement posted on its website.
The statement did not set an age limit, and was not clear whether the recommendation implied that no visas would be issued for such pilgrims.
The ministry said that the conditions were part of "preventive measures special to the MERS coronavirus".
The kingdom is battling to contain the spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-like coronavirus, which has infected 65 people in Saudi Arabia and led to 38 fatalities.
Those figures represent the majority of people affected worldwide - 81 cases of infection and 45 deaths - according to the World Health Organisation.
The Saudi decision comes after the WHO convened emergency talks on MERS last week, with concerns expressed about its potential impact on the hajj when millions of Muslims head to and from Saudi Arabia.
Experts are still struggling to understand MERS.
The World Heatlth Organisation (WHO) has not recommended any MERS-related travel restrictions, but has said that countries should monitor unusual respiratory infection patterns.
The first recorded MERS death was in June last year in Saudi Arabia.
Like SARS, MERS appears to cause a lung infection, with patients suffering from fever, coughing and breathing difficulties, but differs in that it also causes rapid kidney failure.