UK officials are the first to ask those with certain health conditions, or age to postpone their haj plans this upcoming October, due to the threat of a potentially deadly respiratory infection.
After recommendations from the Saudi Arabian ministry of health, the UK is the first country to formally request that those with plans to attend Haj who are over 65, or those that are suffering from heart or respiratory disease, diabetes, cancer or immune deficiency, to put off the annual pilgrimage in an effort to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus from the Middle East, known as MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
Officials in London have also asked that women who are pregnant and children under the age of 12 cancel their trips since they are the most likely candidates to contract the virus. The Coronavirus is potentially deadly.
The Public Health England, as well as National Travel Health Network and Centre, have developed the recent notification for those planning an annual Haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
The Haj is the biggest yearly international gathering of over three million Muslims who travel from across the globe for the pilgrimage. This includes thousands coming from the UK. According to the director of global health with PHE, Dr. Brian McCloskey, many people from across the globe meet in one area, and this historically has shown to increase the chances of contracting infectious diseases; particularly respiratory infections and meningitis. Dr. McCloskey says that this is why getting the necessary notifications to people, and ensuring that they have the proper vaccines pre-departure is so critical.
The WHO, World Health Organization, is also concerned about MERS virus spreading the world after Haj, which takes place in October. About 1.7 million Indian Muslims are expected to visit Haj this year, and until now, there have been 79 reported cases, with 42 fatalities due to MERS-CoV.
The assistant director general for health security with the World Health Organization, Dr. Keiji Fukuda has said that yes, WHO is worried that across such a world where travel is easy that an infection such as this one can spread from one country to the next quickly. He says that they see the evidence of some European infections being linked to Middle Eastern travel.
While there have been no large explosions of an outbreak with this infection, its transmission has remained fairly steady. The fatality rate for the MERS Coronavirus is pretty high, at about 60 percent. WHO has compared this virus to SARS outbreak that occurred about 10 years ago, but there are far fewer health care professionals that have been infected with this new Coronavirus.