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Wed 26 Sep 2012 05:09 PM

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Saudi Arabia acts to limit virus threat during Hajj

Health ministry official says precautions taken to tackle influx of 2 million pilgrims

Saudi Arabia acts to limit virus threat during Hajj

Saudi Arabia has taken precautions to prevent disease spreading among Muslim pilgrims next month after a Qatari man was infected with a virus related to the deadly SARS, a health ministry official said on Wednesday.

The World Health Organisation put out a global alert on Sunday saying a new, previously unknown, virus had infected a 49-year-old Qatari man who had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia, where another man with an almost identical virus had already died.

Britain's Health Protection Agency and respiratory disease experts said there was no immediate cause for concern, although authorities were watching for any signs of the virus spreading.

Muslims from some 160 countries flock to Mecca and Medina during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which begins in late October. Some arrive by plane, others by boat or by car.

"The Health Ministry has taken preventative measures to deal with the influx of over 2 million Hajj pilgrims," Ziad Memish, the deputy minister for public health, told Reuters.

"The measures include monitoring the entrances through land, sea and air to evaluate the people entering and obtain samples if any symptoms are apparent," he added.

In 2009 Saudi Arabia set up thermal cameras at its airports and increased the number of its medics as part of its measures to limit the spread of the H1N1 flu. It will not resort to using thermal cameras this year, Memish said.

"There is also continuous monitoring in the holy places in Mecca and Medina and Jeddah, with teams on the ground and hospitals to deal with them."

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