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Tue 7 Jul 2009 07:57 AM

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Oman bans some umrah pilgrims amid swine flu fears

Ministry of Religious Affairs says move is designed to 'protect people and the society'.

Oman bans some umrah pilgrims amid swine flu fears
UMRAH MOVE: Oman has banned the elderly, ill and children from travelling to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage because of swine flu fears. (Getty Images)

Oman has banned the elderly, people who are ill and children from travelling to Saudi Arabia to perform the lesser pilgrimage, umrah, in fear of contracting swine flu.

The ministry of religious affairs issued a statement saying that the ban on performing the umrah is to "protect people and the society."

The ministry did not clarify whether the ban will be extended to cover the main annual pilgrimage, or hajj, to the Muslim holy sites in Western Saudi Arabia, which falls this year in November.

In neighbouring Bahrain, hajj authorities also urged old and sick people, as well as pregnant women and children to skip the hajj this year, according to Al-Ayyam newspaper on Monday.

Saudi Arabia last week warned elderly Muslims and pregnant women against undertaking the hajj this year as the threat of swine flu mounts worldwide.

It said it was hopeful that a swine flu vaccine could be readied ahead of the hajj, when more than 1.7 million pilgrims from all over the world descend on the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

The number of A(H1N1) cases in the kingdom has reached 125, according to official count.

Swine flu has infected 94,512 people worldwide and been blamed for 429 deaths since it was first detected in April, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.

The A(H1N1) virus has now spread to 136 countries and territories, the WHO said in its latest update, which shows 4,591 new cases and 47 more deaths since the last numbers released on Friday.

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