Saudi Arabia on Saturday urged elderly and chronically ill Muslims not to perform the Hajj pilgrimage to curb the spread of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) which has killed 38 in the Kingdom so far.
The ministry of health issued a set of conditions for people wanting to perform the annual Hajj, which this year falls in October, or the year-round Umrah or minor pilgrimage.
They recommend postponing the Umra and Hajj this year for the elderly and those suffering from chronic illnesses, such as heart, kidney, respiratory diseases, and diabetes”.
People with immunity deficiency, as well as children and pregnant women are also listed according to a ministry statement posted on its website.
The statement did not set an age limit, and it was not clear if the recommendation implies that no visas will be issued for such pilgrims.
The ministry said that the conditions were part of “preventive measures special to the MERS CoV.”
The Kingdom is battling to contain the spread of the 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 (WHO)
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.
The WHO has not recommended any MERS-related travel restrictions, but says countries should monitor unusual respiratory infection patterns.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2013.