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Wed 22 Jul 2009 01:26 AM

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Stay away from Mecca over swine flu, pilgrims warned

Egyptians warn elderly, pregnant women, children and chronic illness sufferers.

Egypt has become the latest country to warn vulnerable Muslims against pilgrimage to Mecca, after an Egyptian woman back from Saudi Arabia became the first swine flu death in the Middle East and Africa.Egypt's health ministry "has warned the elderly, pregnant women, children and those suffering from chronic illness not to perform the hajj or omra pilgrimages," the official MENA news agency reported late Monday.

Upwards of two million people are expected in Saudi Arabia over the next five months on pilgrimages to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

The ministry "has asked them to delay taking part so that they are not exposed to the risks... of swine flu," MENA quoted health ministry official Amr Qandil as saying.

The warning came ahead of a meeting of Arab health ministers in Cairo on Wednesday to coordinate arrangements and precautions to be taken during the pilgrimage season.

Egypt on Sunday reported its first death linked to swine flu after a 25-year-old woman returning from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia died in hospital.

Egypt's top cleric or mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, has said he would be guided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other medical authorities on whether to issue a fatwa or decree barring all Egyptians from making the pilgrimage.

Egyptian health officials have said all returning pilgrims will be quarantined.

In Iran, a health ministry official on Tuesday repeated calls for elderly Iranians and children to avoid travelling to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage as the number of confirmed swine flu cases in the Islamic republic rose to 16.

"Twelve among them are omra pilgrims," Mahmoud Soroush, head of the ministry's flu and border prevention programmes, told state news agency IRNA.

Saudi Arabia in June warned elderly Muslims and pregnant women against undertaking the hajj because of the threat of swine flu. Oman issued a similar warning on July 6.

Tunisia earlier this month suspended omra pilgrimages because of the virus, while reserving judgement on whether the main hajj pilgrimage should be undertaken in November.

Peak numbers make the omra pilgrimage during the holy month of Ramadan, which this year is due to begin in late August.

Saudi Arabia has pre-ordered millions of doses of vaccines for the rapidly spreading H1NI flu so that, if ready, they can be administered around the kingdom ahead of the massive November-December global pilgrimage to Mecca.

The WHO says the virus is moving around the globe at "unprecedented speed," with more than 700 people killed since the outbreak began some four months ago.

The organisation will no longer keep a global tally of flu cases, instead tracking the pandemic through newly-affected territories, it has said.

The virus was first identified in Mexico in April and the vast majority of the deaths have been recorded in the Americas.

Between 250,000 to 500,000 people around the world die of regular seasonal flu every year, according to the WHO.

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Johan 11 years ago

Muslims should not be overly concern of the H1N1, for Allah and the Prophet ( peace be upon him) would protect and guard the believers. Pray and fast earnestly that the viruses will not come upon the believes except for the infidels. Allah Akbar!

Mustafa Zahid 11 years ago

Holy city should be written as Makkah, not Mecca. Mecca is wrong, Makkah is the right spelling.

Graham 11 years ago

Mustafa - you are wrong. the City of Mecca/Makkah is an Arabic name and doea not transalate exactly since the Arabic and English Alphabet are not the same since Arabic is a phonetic language - so Mecca/Makkah can be spelt anyway anybody likes.