Via Gulf News: Pilgrims pour into Saudi Arabia undeterred by Mers fears. Excerpt:
Makkah: Pilgrims from around the world are pouring into the holy city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia, undeterred by the spread of the Mers virus that has killed 284 people in the kingdom.
The mysterious Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (mers) is considered a deadlier but less transmissible cousin of the Sars virus that appeared in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine per cent of whom died.
Mers first appeared in Saudi Arabia in April 2012, and the kingdom remains the worst-hit country, accounting for the bulk of a global death toll.
But the faithful who dream of visiting the holy shrines in Makkah and Madinah at least once in their lives continue to pour into Makkah to perform Umrah.
“We have received warnings by authorities in our country about Mers and were informed of the importance of taking precautions,” said 45-year-old Abdullah, a pilgrim from Malaysia.
Wearing a mask, Abdullah said he applies disinfectants as he enters the Grand Mosque in Makkah. “God will protect me,” he said.
More pilgrims are expected to arrive with the approach of the fasting month of Ramadan, which starts late in June, and sees hundreds of thousands descend on Makkah for Umrah.
But numbers will rocket when pilgrims arrive for Haj, the largest annual religious gathering worldwide, which takes place this year in October.
Local authorities in Makkah are distributing leaflets and brochures containing advice on hygiene and measures to prevent the risk of infection by the coronavirus.
Tunisian pilgrim, Safia Bin Mohammad shrugged off the fears of Mers.
“I am not afraid of the coronavirus,” she said, pointing out that it is not always easy to get a visa to perform pilgrimage.
“It was not easy to come here, so I couldn’t have postponed my pilgrimage,” said the 56-year-old woman, insisting she was “complying with the medical precautions.”
In a preemptive measure to avoid a potential importation of the virus, Tunisian authorities have advised nationals to postpone their plans for pilgrimage this year.