NEWS: H1N1 and the Hajj, Part Two

Last summer, Arab health ministers and the World Health Organization decided to ban certain groups of people from making the hajj pilgrimage this year because of fears the H1N1 virus, commonly referred to as “swine flu,” would spread more quickly. (For the earlier Religion Compass Exchanges post, “H1N1 and the Hajj,” click here.) But Saudi authorities reported this week that the number of laboratory-confirmed cases and fatalities from the virus was much lower than initially expected. According to Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabeeah, of the approximately 2.5 million Muslims who made the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (in western Saudi Arabia) in November, there were only 73 proven illnesses and five deaths. Four of those who died were over the age of 70. The fifth was a 17-year-old Nigerian woman. All of them had preexisting health problems, such as cancer and heart disease.

In cooperation with international health authorities, Saudi Arabia had assembled 20,000 health workers (who had access to vaccines) and cautioned other countries to restrict the travel of the elderly, young, and infirm. In addition, according to the Agence France Presse (AFP), Saudi authorities set up heat-sensing cameras “at airports and around the main hajj sites to detect anyone with a feverish body temperature.” For an Al Jazeera video covering the issue, click here. For the World Health Organization report, click here. And to read more, click here.

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