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Wed 26 Sep 2012 01:16 PM

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Saudi downplays SARS ahead of Hajj influx

Health officials say no changes to the conditions required by the Gulf state ahead of Hajj

Saudi downplays SARS ahead of Hajj influx
Health officials in Saudi Arabia have downplayed the impact of a possible outbreak of an unknown respiratory virus that has killed at least one person.

Health officials in Saudi Arabia have downplayed the impact of a possible outbreak of an unknown respiratory virus that killed at least one person, stressing that cases remain rare.

The virus, known as a coronavirus, comes from the same family as SARS, which appeared in 2002 and infected more than 8,000 people, killing around 800 before being bought under control.

“There have been two cases of flu over a period of time. This is normal,” said health ministry spokesman Khaled Al Mirghalani.

“There are no changes to the conditions put by the health ministry to pilgrims,” he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday said the new virus had killed one person and left a second man in hospital. The 49-year old Qatari, who fell ill on 3 September, traveled to Saudi Arabia several days prior to falling ill.

The man was admitted to an intensive care unit in Doha on 11 September before being transferred to the UK by air ambulance. The virus that affected him has a 99.5 percent match to a virus that killed a 60-year old Saudi national earlier this year.

Saudi officials on Sunday claimed a second person had died but WHO said it was a suspect case.

“WHO is working closely with KSA, as in previous years, to support the country’s health measures for all visitors participating in the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca next month,” said WHO.

The cases come a month ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage, which draws millions of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia from across the world.

Hajj Minister Bandar Hajjar said the kingdom is expecting more than 1.8m foreign pilgrims and around 1m domestic pilgrims to perform Hajj this year, which is expected to take place around October 24 to October 29.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that includes causes of the common cold but can also include more severe illness such as the virus responsible for SARS.

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