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Saudi gears up for Haj

Saudi gears up for Haj

The kingdom is taking several measures to prevent the spread of swine flu during Haj this year.

August 6, 2009 11:37 by

Only people aged between 12 and 65 will be permitted to undertake the Haj this year, Saudi’s Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said in a statement on Wednesday. Al-Rabeeah said the proposal had been sent to the cabinet for formal approval and would be forwarded to Saudi missions for action concerning the issuance of Haj visas.

Al-Rabeeah said that the proposal was based on decisions taken at a meeting of swine flu experts in Jeddah and at an emergency meeting of Arab health ministers that took place in Cairo last month. Six people have died of the H1NI flu in Saudi, and more than 600 people have been affected with the virus.

In addition to the age restrictions, Haj visas will also not be given to pregnant women or to those who are chronically ill with heart, kidney, liver and lung problems, and those who suffer from diabetes, obesity and hypertension. The minister said that overseas Saudi missions would instruct Haj operators to inform pilgrims of the current requirements and advise them to follow the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health.

He said that pilgrims taking part in the circumambulation, stoning of devil at Jamrat and the standing at Arafat would be required to wear face masks in order to reduce the risk of flu.

Pilgrims must be vaccinated two weeks prior to their departure for the holy cities, and will have to show proof of receiving the flu shots at home, Khaled Al-Mirghalani, the Health Ministry’s spokesman, said. They will also need to provide health certificates showing that they do not have chronic diseases.

“These conditions have been approved after consultations with top international experts in the field,” Al-Mirghalani said. “No one will be able to get a visa without fulfilling these new rules.”

Al-Rabeeah said that the conditions are “balanced, fair and scientific.” He urged pilgrims to wear masks in crowded places, to sanitize their hands and to seek medical help if they have flu symptoms.

Al-Rabeeah said that the kingdom had adequate medicines and facilities to cope with any emergency during the Haj. In addition to local preparations, the ministry has ordered four million vaccines expected to arrive in October.

First seen in Arab News.

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