Visiting Muslim pilgrims undeterred by MERS fears

Visiting Muslim pilgrims undeterred by MERS fears
Sun Jun 8, 2014 14:44:51

Pilgrims from around the world are pouring into the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, undeterred by the spread of the MERS virus that has killed 284 people in the kingdom to perform Islamic ritual of Umrah (paying a visit to Kaaba, performing Tawaaf around it, walking between Safaa and Marwah seven times).

The mysterious Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is considered a deadlier but less transmissible cousin of the Sars virus that appeared in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine per cent of whom died.

MERS first appeared in Saudi Arabia in April 2012, and the kingdom remains the worst-hit country, accounting for the bulk of a global death toll.

But the faithful who dream of visiting the holy shrines in Mecca and Madinah at least once in their lives continue to pour into Mecca to perform Umrah.

Wearing a mask, Abdullah said he applies disinfectants as he enters the Grand Mosque in Mecca. “God will protect me,” he said.

More pilgrims are expected to arrive with the approach of the fasting month of Ramadan, which starts late in June, and sees hundreds of thousands descend on Mecca for Umrah.

But numbers will rocket when pilgrims arrive for Hajj, the largest annual religious gathering worldwide, which takes place this year in October.

Local authorities in Mecca are distributing leaflets and brochures containing advice on hygiene and measures to prevent the risk of infection by the coronavirus.

Tunisian pilgrim, Safia Bin Mohammad shrugged off the fears of MERS.

“I am not afraid of the coronavirus,” she said, pointing out that it is not always easy to get a visa to perform pilgrimage.

“It was not easy to come here, so I couldn’t have postponed my pilgrimage,” said the 56-year-old woman, insisting she was “complying with the medical precautions.”

The virus has been imported to more than a dozen other countries.

Last year, five million pilgrims visited the kingdom for Umrah and Hajj.

This year, the number of Umrah pilgrims has reached 4.8 million since the start of the lunar Muslim calendar in October, according to official statistics.


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