Saudis prepare for Ebola during pilgrimage


JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 1 (UPI) —

The Saudi health minister said a precautionary plan is ready if the Ebola virus enters the country during the annual pilgrimage to the city of Mecca.

Adel al-Faqih, noting Saudi Arabia has no diagnosed case of the Ebola virus, said his country will deploy medical personnel in airports and will establish isolation units as three million pilgrims are anticipated in October.

The pilgrimage, known as a "hajj," comes in the twelfth month of the Arabic calendar, and is regarded as a mandatory duty of all Muslims.

The Saudi government has coordinated procedures with the United Nations’ World Health Organization and the governments of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia — three West African nations hardest-hit by the Ebola virus. Saudi Arabia announced it would not offer visas to pilgrims from those countries.

At least 205 flights to Saudi Arabia have been closely monitored, said Abdulghani Al-Malki, spokesman for Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz international airport, adding, "We have double-checked the papers that prove the airplanes had been sprayed twice before taking off to their destinations."

He earlier told the Oman newspaper al-Watan, "So far 118,000 pilgrims have arrived by air from Nigeria. There was not a single suspected case of the deadly virus among them."

"We have not stopped issuing hajj visas to Nigerians and we know that about 70,000 pilgrims come from the African country every year," said deputy health minister Mohammed Al-Khasheem, the newspaper Arab News reported. "We have taken precautionary measures to prevent an Ebola outbreak in the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) during the hajj season. We have made early preparations for the annual pilgrimage."


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