Saudi 'optimistic' on MERS-free hajj

Saudi authorities are optimistic that October's hajj pilgrimage to the kingdom, one of the world's annual largest gatherings, will pass without outbreaks of the deadly MERS coronavirus, the health minister said Saturday.

The virus, which appeared first in the kingdom last year, has killed 58 people worldwide, 49 of them in Saudi Arabia, according to official Saudi figures and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

But "we are optimistic we can achieve yet another success as the hajj pilgrimage season nears" after the minor pilgrimage season during the fasting month of Ramadan "succeeded despite health challenges such as the coronavirus," said Abdullah al-Rabia.

No MERS outbreaks were recorded at last year's hajj, nor during the Umrah season in July and August of this year.

Saudi Arabia has "longstanding experience" dealing with health challenges brought by the large numbers of people who come to the kingdom—home to Islam's holiest sites.

Around two million people are expected at this year's hajj, which begins on October 13 and lasts five days.

Authorities have urged the elderly and chronically ill to avoid the event and have reduced the number of people they will allow to perform come.

The WHO said on Thursday it had been informed of 132 lab-confirmed cases of MERS, including the deaths.

With the exception of a cluster of cases in the eastern town of Al-Ihsa, the focal point of the outbreak has been the capital, scientists said Friday in an online report published on The Lancet.

Experts are struggling to understand MERS, for which there is still no vaccine.

It is considered a cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.

Like SARS, MERS is thought to have jumped from animals to humans, and it shares the former's flu-like symptoms—but differs by also causing .

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Another 3 die of MERS virus in Saudi Arabia

Sep 08, 2013

Another three people have died in Saudi Arabia after contracting the MERS coronavirus, the health ministry said Sunday, bringing the kingdom's total fatalities of the SARS-like virus to 47.

Saudi man dies of MERS virus

Aug 28, 2013

A Saudi man has died of the coronavirus MERS, bringing the kingdom's death toll from the SARS-like virus to 42, health authorities said Wednesday, adding a new case was registered.

Recommended for you

Ebola: timeline of a ruthless killer

8 hours ago

Here are key dates in the current Ebola epidemic, the worst ever outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever which first surfaced in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Ebola reveals shortcomings of African solidarity

Jan 31, 2015

As Africa's leaders meet in Ethiopia to discuss the Ebola crisis, expectations of firm action will be tempered by criticism over the continent's poor record in the early stages of the epidemic.

Second bird flu case confirmed in Canada

Jan 30, 2015

The husband of a Canadian who was diagnosed earlier this week with bird flu after returning from a trip to China has also tested positive for the virus, health officials said Friday.

What exactly is coronavirus?

Jan 30, 2015

The conflicts in Syria and Iraq are straining public health systems and public health efforts meant to prevent and detect the spread of infectious diseases. This is generating a "perfect storm" of conditions for outbreaks. Among the infections raising concern is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, caused by a type of coronavirus, which emerged in 2012. ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.