Saudi Arabia says Kingdom is "MERS-free" ahead of Hajj
Saudi Arabia announced Thursday that the Kingdom is MERS-free ahead of Sunday's annual hajj, according to AFP sources. The deadly virus, which has already killed 58 individuals globally, "has not been detected among any of the pilgrims," said Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabia.
With more than 84% of the fatal cases reported globally originating from the Kingdom, Saudi authorities have implemented very strict measures to control any potential epidemics among the approximatey two million pilgrims who will be in Saudi Arabia for hajj.
Rabia said that approximately 600 public health employees will be deployed at the Jeddah international airport to screen pilgrims arriving into the Kingdom to ensure they are MERS-free and have necessary vaccinations. Saudi Arabia has urged pilgrims to wear face masks and has encouraged the elderly and chronically ill to avoid Hajj this year.
No vaccine exists for MERS, and it is considered a "deadlier, less-transmissible cousin of the SARS virus," which infected 8,273 people, according to the report.
As one of the largest gatherings in the world, many fear that the annual Hajj pilgrimage will lead to widsepread MERS epidemics when pilgrims return to their home countries.