Saudi Health Ministry Recommends Some Restrictions on Pilgrims

Saudi Arabia has recommended some restrictions on Muslims planning to make pilgrimages to the country this year as the death toll rises from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS.

Pilgrims above the age of 65, pregnant women, and children under the age of 12 shouldn’t make the journey to Mecca or Medina this year, Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish said at a press conference in Riyadh today.

The arrival of pilgrims during the Hajj season in October poses a challenge to Saudi authorities as they battle to contain the latest outbreak of MERS. The kingdom issued similar advice to would-be participants before last year’s event, during which it hosted about 1.4 million Muslims from outside the country. Mecca receives about 10 million pilgrims a year.

At least 105 people in Saudi Arabia have died from MERS since it emerged in September 2012, and 345 cases have been reported, according to the Health Ministry.

The viral respiratory illness can be spread between people in close contact and has been found in camels, the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

MERS is spreading in healthcare centers, where the ministry is moving to “enhance infection control practices,” Memish said. Education Minister Khalid Alfaisal has ordered schools to take preventative measures, Okaz newspaper reported.

The health ministry sent text messages to the country’s 30 million residents this month to alert them to the dangers of the disease. The virus has spread to southeast Asia, killing a Malaysian man who had visited Saudi Arabia, according to the World Health Organization. Egypt state-run media reported the country’s first case of MERS on April 26.

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