Mohammed Shuaib wears a mask as he walks amid a flood of Muslims arriving for the hajj, but his wariness about the deadly MERS virus that has struck Saudi Arabia doesn't seem to be widely shared.
"Prevention is better than cure," said the 67-year-old Algerian pensioner as he removed his mask to speak to AFP after performing noon prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
But the overwhelming majority of those around him have no masks, and some said they never even heard of the MERS coronavirus, which has claimed 60 lives worldwide, 51 of them in Saudi Arabia.
The latest two Saudi victims were announced on Thursday.
"We heard that the coronavirus is deadly and people in this case should protect themselves," said Shuaib, accompanied by his nephew, who also wore a mask.
"I obtained the mask from Algerian authorities, who also briefed pilgrims about the disease," he said.
The hajj, the largest annual gathering in the world, starts on Sunday and ends on October 18, with about two million pilgrims expected from Saudi Arabia and around the world.
The fact the kingdom accounts for the overwhelming majority of cases has raised concerns about the hajj to Mecca, Islam's holiest site. Some fear pilgrims could be infected and return to their homelands carrying the virus.
But the authorities have said they are optimistic the hajj will pass without incident, given Muslims also go on lesser pilgrimages at other times of the year and there has been no problem.
This year's minor pilgrimage season, or Umrah, during the fasting month of Ramadan in July-August passed off without any MERS outbreak even though millions of Muslims took part.I share the Saudis' optimism, though I hope they have a really good pessimism-based plan B. More disturbing in this report is the apparent ignorance of many hajjis about the existence of MERS at all. The inability of governments to reach ordinary people is a critical issue in public health all over the world.