Tuesday 21 November 2017

Pilgrims warned of deadly Saudi virus

Richard Spencer Cairo

Egypt has issued a warning against travel to Saudi Arabia as a camel-borne virus spreads across the region just before the pilgrimage season.

An Egyptian man returning from Saudi Arabia became the country's first case of diagnosed Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or Mers, a disease that has already killed more than 100 people across the Gulf states in two years.

Although little visited by Westerners, Saudi Arabia is home to millions of foreign migrant workers, and millions more from the Muslim world visit each year on pilgrimage to Mecca and other holy sites.

The country's king sacked his health minister last month after criticism of the country's speed of response to the disease, and there is concern that the annual wave of religious visitors, often described as the world's biggest international migration, could spread the illness around the globe.

Egypt's health ministry said it was warning that children under 15 and those over 65, as well as pregnant women and anyone suffering from chronic heart and chest diseases should postpone their pilgrimages.

The main Hajj season is in October this year, but many Muslims also make Umrah, the so-called lesser pilgrimage, at other times.

So far, 107 people have been killed by MERS, with at least 345 infected, according to the WHO. However, 140 of those cases have been reported since the beginning of April.

The virus has been circulating the Middle East for at least two years. It is a coronavirus similar to Sars, the respiratory infection which caused panic in 2003, particularly in Asia.


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