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Sun 4 May 2014 01:23 PM

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Saudi agents refuse to issue some Haj, Umrah visas over MERS fears

Haj & Umrah visa processing outlets have stopped accepting applications from young, old following Health Ministry advise

Saudi agents refuse to issue some Haj, Umrah visas over MERS fears
(AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Haj and Umrah visa processing outlets have stopped accepting applications from those aged under four and over 60 because of fears over the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Acting Health Minister Adel Fakeih last week advised children and older pilgrims – the age groups most prone to contracting the virus – not to participate in a pilgrimage until the threat of the virus had reduced.

Travel agents and visa processing outlets have heeded the advice, refusing to process some visas.

An outbreak of the deadly virus in the past month, particularly in the Western Province, home to Islam’s holiest cities Makkah and Medina, has heightened concerns.

Saudi Arabia said on Thursday the number of MERS cases nearly doubled in April, with 26 more infections reported last Tuesday and Wednesday.

Of the more than 370 people who caught the disease in Saudi Arabia, 107 have died since MERS first emerged two years ago.

Health workers now also are being infected.

The virus has spread to Asia and the US, which have each reported one infection.

Egypt's Health Ministry issued a warning on Friday against children, elderly people and anyone suffering from chronic heart and chest diseases travelling to Saudi Arabia due to the outbreak.

The increase in MERS is likely to affect Saudi Arabia’s pilgrimage season, when large numbers of foreign pilgrims travel to Makkah during the fasting month of Ramadan in July, followed by millions more for Islam's annual Haj pilgrimage in October.

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Adrienne 5 years ago

I totally agree with this decision. It is very important to control this outbreak until they can find either a vaccine or the source. I hope other countries sending their people to perform Haj will be as responsible.
MERS data needs to be shared and countries where it is spreading need to be transparent.