11/19/2009, 00.00

Swine Flu: no deaths among the faithful to Mecca, but pilgrims are down by 70%

The Saudi Ministry of Health confirms that there are no victims from H1N1 among Muslims travelling to the holy places on the Haj. Strengthened control measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Sharp decline in number of pilgrims and heavy losses in the field of religious tourism. The latest data from WHO.

Mecca (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Saudi Ministry for Health has confirmed that, at present, there have been no deaths from influenza A among pilgrims heading to Mecca. However, the number of the faithful travelling to the Saudi holy sites of Islam is in sharp decline - about 70% less than in 2008 - for fear of possible infection.  

Khaled Al-Merghalani, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, has reassured the public by saying that "to date there have been no new deaths from flu among pilgrims" and all those who have symptoms of the disease, "have received the necessary care and have recovered. The official confirmed that "the situation is under control" and "inshallah, this is reassuring."  

Saudi Arabia has stepped up preventive measures against swine influenza in view of Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, which every year draws millions of Muslim faithful. The government has set up a vaccination campaign, devices for detecting the temperature of passengers arriving at airports and at the entrance of Jeddah.  

Last week, Minister for Health, Abdullah al-Rabia, said there were only nine cases of H1N1 among pilgrims, the number of victims in the country is 70, but none is one of the faithful on the Hajj. The total number of infections in the kingdom has reached 7 thousand.   

Despite the preventive measures and assurances by the authorities, the number of Saudi faithful who have asked the permissions for the pilgrimage has "dropped by 70%" compared to last year. "Today there are about 68 thousand permits issued," said Saad Al-Qurashi, head of the Commission for the Hajj and Umrah at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Mecca. "The figure includes immigrants and people who come from neighbouring countries."

Al-Qurashi said that so far the permits issued to foreign pilgrims reached around 1.7 million, a number significantly lower than in previous years and involves heavy losses in the travel and tourism. A decrease in the number of pilgrims has also emerged during the month of Ramadan. This is why the Saudi Department responsible for issuing permits for the pilgrimage has decided to extend the subscription period, hoping for a last minute large influx.  

A November 8 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), states that human cases of H1N1 around the world has exceeded 50 thousand, with more than 6200 victims. In Southeast Asia there are 678 dead and more than 44 thousand cases of infection.  In the Western Pacific there are over 150 thousand infections compared to 516 deaths. In the region of the eastern Mediterranean more than 25 thousand cases of infection, 151 confirmed deaths.


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