Health officials in Saudi Arabia over the weekend advised people visiting holy sites as part of this year's Hajj or Moslem pilgrimage to wear masks in crowded places to stop the spread of the MERS coronavirus. The authorities warned that they will not issue visas to the elderly and people with chronic diseases in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus, BBC said.
A list of requirements issued by the Health Ministry on Saturday, July 13, 2013 also advises elderly people or those with chronic diseases to postpone their pilgrimage as 38 people have so far died in the kingdom from the virus since last September. The official did not however set an age limit for those to be considered as elderly.
Health officials urged pilgrims to maintain personal hygiene, use tissue paper when sneezing and coughing, and get the necessary vaccinations. MERS (the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) or coronavirus, emerged in the Arabian Peninsula in September 2012 and is part of a large family of viruses that includes common cold and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).
The World Health Organisation, WHO, has so far confirmed a total of 80 cases of MERS infection worldwide, including 45 deaths, SAPA news agency said. The strain of coronavirus, called MERS-CoV, was first discovered in 2012 in a man in Saudi Arabia. France, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Tunisia and Britain, have also reported infections, the FARS news agency reported.
The new health restrictions are applicable to the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in October and subsequent minor pilgrimages, Health Ministry spokesman, Khalid al-Mirghalani, told the Saudi newspaper Arab News. Moslems also travel to the site at other times, as well as visiting the Masjid Al-Nabawi, or Mosque of the Prophet, in Medina. Millions of Moslems flock every year to holy sites in Saudi Arabia to perform the Haj, making it one of the world's biggest annual gatherings.