July 25, 2009

Hajj attendance curbed over swine flu fears

by David Masters

Swine flu fears have prompted Arab health officials to ban vulnerable groups from attending the Muslim Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

People aged under 12 and over 65, and those with long-term health conditions, will be prevented from taking part in the event, the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed.

The decision – made by Arab health ministers who met in Cairo this week -follows a request from Saudi officials last month asking sick and elderly Muslims not to visit this year.

All Muslims are obliged to take part in the Hajj, a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, once in their lifetime.

Last year’s event attracted more than two million Muslims from around the world.

This year’s Hajj falls in November.

Arab health ministers added that if a vaccine is released before this year’s Hajj, pilgrims will be asked to provide an immunisation report to obtain a visa.

So far 700 people have died worldwide from the swine flu virus.

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