Makkah in focus as MERS spreads

ALERT: In order to prevent MERS infection, pilgrims wear surgical masks in the holy city of Makkah.

ALERT: In order to prevent MERS infection, pilgrims wear surgical masks in the holy city of Makkah.

The World Health Organization reported on Friday new cases of laboratory-confirmed MERS coronavirus cases in Jordan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, UAE and the US.

Two confirmed cases of the virus in the Netherlands and in the US had a travel history to the Kingdom. The other victims of the virus numbered nine in the UAE, one more in Jordan and one new case in Lebanon.

Beginning Sunday, passengers arriving in Singapore from MERS affected countries in the Middle East will have their temperatures checked at the Changi airport.

In the Kingdom, three deaths, one each in Riyadh, Jeddah and Taif and six new cases, two each in the same places were reported. The death toll has reached 163.

Officials are concerned that not enough is being done to prevent Makkah from becoming a route for exporting the MERS coronavirus as millions from around the world converge on the holy city to perform Umrah and Haj.

“Makkah is a location for people from all over the world with all kinds of problems that could be spread all over,” said Adnan Al-Bar, a member of the Shoura Council, AP reported.
Only one medical facility in Makkah — the King Abdullah Medical City — is equipped to handle MERS cases, according to Ismail Mohammed, the director-general of a hospital in the city.

“Makkah is almost considered to be free” of the virus, he told AP. But he warned steps have to be taken to ensure it remains so. Government policies have largely been reactive; greater patient education is needed; and there is still no “overall orientation (of anti-MERS policy) toward the pilgrims.”

The Haj Ministry’s website, which many international pilgrims refer to for information, makes no mention of MERS or special precautions. The Health Ministry’s website, however, advises people over 65, children under 12 and those who are ill to delay their pilgrimage.
So far Makkah has seen fewer cases than other parts of Saudi Arabia.

As the number of cases rises in the Kingdom, the concern is that there are not enough precautions being taken in Makkah, a potential hotspot for spreading the disease.

Jeddah reported an 80-year-old male suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease and a 35-year-old female, who developed fever and diarrhea on May 13.

In Taif, both the newly infected were women of 67 and 48 years of age and the former, who was a severe diabetic and hypertension patient, passed away in a government hospital.

The two women who died in Jeddah and Riyadh were 53 and 57 respectively.

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