Muslim faithful unfazed by MERS threat
Pilgrims from around the world are pouring into Makkah, undeterred by the spread of the MERS virus.
“We have received warnings by authorities in our country about MERS and were informed of the importance of taking precautions,” 45-year-old Abdullah, a pilgrim from Malaysia, was quoted as saying in a report.
Wearing a mask, Abdullah said he applies disinfectants as he enters the Grand Mosque.
“God will protect me,” he said. More pilgrims are expected to arrive with the approach of Ramadan, which sees hundreds of thousands descend on Makkah for Umrah.
But numbers will rocket when pilgrims arrive for Haj, which takes place this year in October. Authorities in Makkah are distributing leaflets and brochures containing advice on hygiene and measures to prevent the risk of infection by the coronavirus, AFP reported.
Safia bin Mohammed, a pilgrim from Tunisia, 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.”
In a preemptive measure to avoid a potential importation of the virus, Tunisian authorities have advised nationals to postpone their plans for pilgrimage this year.
Last year, five million pilgrims visited Saudi Arabia for Umrah and Haj.
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.
Jeddah is the main entry point for pilgrims.
The World Health Organization has also so far not advised special screening at points of entry, nor does it currently recommend any travel or trade restrictions, including for the pilgrimage.
There is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of MERS, according to WHO.
“We are complying with the instructions of the health authorities. The situation seems normal,” said Murshed Ahmed, a Bangladeshi leading a group of 23 pilgrims from his country. “The coronavirus has no impact on the Umrah season,” said Saad Al-Qurashi, a Saudi who works for an agency specialized in religious tourism.
But the head of a similar agency seemed more cautious.