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Warning on pilgrimages over flu fear

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 Leave a Comment

Egypt has become the latest country to warn vulnerable Muslims against pilgrimages to Makkah, 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 Haj or Umrah pilgrimages,” the official Mena news agency reported late Monday.

Upwards of 2mn people are expected in Saudi Arabia over the next five months on pilgrimages to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

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 today to co-ordinate 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 yesterday 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 Umrah 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 Haj because of the threat of swine flu. Oman issued a similar warning on July 6. Tunisia earlier this month suspended Umrah pilgrimages because of the virus. l Eight Kuwaitis have tested positive for swine flu on their return from an Umrah pilgrimage and have been admitted to hospital, the Kuwaiti health ministry announced yesterday.

The Kuwaitis, including six women, “underwent laboratory tests, which confirmed their infection by the A(H1N1) virus,” ministry spokesman Yussef al-Nisf. “They are receiving the necessary treatment at the hospital and they are in stable condition,” he said. The new cases take the number of people in Kuwait confirmed to have contracted swine flu to 44, most of whom have now recovered, the spokesman said.