Haj pilgrams told to wear face masks

Latest measure to tackle the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus
A general view shows pilgrims arriving in Meccas Grand Mosque for prayer on October 31, 2011, as more than 1.5 million Muslims have arrived in Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage to the shrine city, the worlds largest annual human assembly which peaks on November 5, according to local state media. (AFP/Getty Images)
By Beatrice Thomas
Thu 03 Oct 2013 11:00 AM

The Saudi Ministry of Health has advised haj pilgrims to wear face masks when visiting the holy cities in the latest measure to tackle the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, it was reported.

It has also asked the elderly with chronic diseases to postpone their Haj to prevent spreading the disease.

It comes as the latest figures from the World Health Organisation show 34 of the 37 new laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV reported between WHO’s August 13 and September 20 updates were from Saudi Arabia. The other three cases were from Qatar.

Of the 34 Saudi cases, WHO attributed them to three outbreaks – five cases in Medina, two clusters in Riyadh and a cluster in Hafr Al Batin.

Globally, 130 laboratory-confirmed and 17 probable cases of human MERS-CoV have been reported to WHO since April 2012. Of those, 58 have resulted in deaths.

Dr Nazreen Sherbini, a specialist in infectious diseases and influenza, said MERS was transmitted through droplets from coughing and sneezing, according to a report in local English-daily, the Arab News.

“Pilgrims should wear protective masks that cover the noses and mouths in crowded places and follow basic health etiquette while sneezing or coughing,” Sherbini said.

She also advised pilgrims to avoid people displaying signs of a fever.

Saudi has been one of the countries worst hit by the virus, which first emerged in April 2012.

Following a meeting in Saudi last month, the newly-established Global Center for Mass Gathering Medicine was assigned to monitor the developments related to MERS-coronavirus.

The conference was organised by the Saudi Ministry of Health in collaboration with Arab League and WHO and attended by about 500 health representatives.

Affected countries in the Middle East include Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.

In Europe countries affected include France, Germany, the UK and Italy, while in Tunisia in North Africa has also been affected.

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