African states accept move to bar pilgrims over Ebola ‘with grace’
JEDDAH — The decision to suspend 7,200 Haj visas for pilgrims from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia because of the Ebola virus was taken about three months ago, according to the Saudi charge d’affaires in the Guinean capital.
“This was a precautionary measure the Saudi Embassy in Conakry has taken to prevent the possible spread of the deadly virus among other pilgrims,” Mohammed Al-Hamoud said.
He said the governments of the three West African countries have accepted the decision “with grace”.
Hamoud said the decision would remain in place despite the measures taken by the Guinean government over the two past weeks to ensure its pilgrims were free of the infection.
“The present condition regarding the spread of the virus necessitates the cessation of Haj visa issuance for the citizens of the three African countries,” he said.
The charge d’affaires said the embassy started its negotiations with the three countries on the possible suspension of the Haj visas because of the Ebola virus outbreak about four months ago.
“The embassy hinted to them at the time that Haj visas might not be issued to their citizens,” he said.
He said the former Saudi ambassador to Guinea, Amjad Bidaiwi, had made it very clear to the three governments that the suspension of the visas would only be lifted if an official document from the World Health Organization approving the travel of their pilgrims to the Kingdom was issued.
Hamoud said most of the negotiations were done with Guinea because it has the largest number of pilgrims coming, close to 7,000.
“The pilgrims from Sierra Leone and Liberia are around 400 in total,” he added.
Meanwhile, Jeddah Health Affairs has reinforced its precautionary measures against Ebola at air, sea and land inlets.
An official spokesman of the department said pilgrims coming from countries neighboring the three West African states will be closely watched to prevent any probable spread of the virus.
Dr. Khaled Obaid Baqwakid, the department’s assistant director, said the measures so far taken by the Kingdom are enough to prevent any cases of Ebola entering the country.