Saudi: No hajj, umrah visas for pregnant, elderly this year due to MERS concerns

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To help prevent the spread of a new coronavirus that has killed 45 people worldwide, 38 of those within Saudi Arabia, the country has imposed new restrictions on visitors who wish to to perform Umrah and Hajj this year.

Starting with Hajj and continuing into the Umrah season, pilgrimage visas will not be issued to the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes or illnesses involving the heart, kidneys and respiratory system, Arab News reports.

Pregnant women, people with terminal illnesses and children will also not be granted visas, Health Ministry spokesman Khalid Al-Mirghalani told the newspaper.

KSA has been at the epicenter of an outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which hails from the same family of viruses as SARS and causes fever, cough and breathing difficulties.

MERS history

The virus was first discovered in the country last September. Though it did not originally appear to spread through human to human contact, the World Health Organization later said that transmission between those in contact with infected people was possible.

Since the fall, Saudi has diagnosed 66 cases within its borders, mostly in an Al-Ahsa hospital in the Eastern Province, some 250km from Doha.

No new cases of MERS have been diagnosed in Qatar this year. But late last month, a Qatari man who had been diagnosed with MERS after a trip to Saudi Arabia died in a London hospital. One of his doctors attributed his death to the virus, which he said “effectively turns your lungs to jelly.”

Saudi’s announcement comes one day after the UAE confirmed its first diagnosed case of MERS, an 82-year-old cancer patient. It also follows on news that KSA would reduce the number of Hajj visas it grants to those abroad by one-fifth, due to ongoing construction in Makkah.

The Health Ministry has also issued guidelines for those who do visit the holy city, including asking pilgrims to wear face masks in crowded areas; getting their flu shots before coming; and not spitting in the streets.

Are you planning to do Umrah this month? Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by Omar Chatriwala / Al Jazeera English

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