Saudi Arabia’s Haj Ministry has said that it has not received any cancellation of Umrah reservations due to increasing MERS cases reported in the Kingdom, local media said.
“We take directives solely from the Saudi Health Ministry, the only official body responsible for issuing health advice for the pilgrimage,” said Abdullah Marghalani, undersecretary at the Haj Ministry and general director of the ministry’s Jeddah branch.
“We do not take into account rumours circulating on social networking sites.”
The Haj ministry said that it has not received any directives from the Kingdom’s health officials stating that MERS infections had reached epidemic levels.
“Wearing a face mask is optional and cannot be forced upon pilgrims,” said Marghalani.
“We have not had any complaints from foreign governments about any of their pilgrims being infected with the virus. The virus itself has not affected Umrah pilgrims so far, nor has it had any effect on applications for the Haj and Umrah pilgrimages.”
Saudi Arabia reported 11 new MERS cases, including the first in the pilgrimage city of Mecca. The Ministry said that around eight of those infected were in intensive care, while two were stable and one showed no symptoms.
The MERS death toll has touched 81 in the country, with the number of confirmed cases reaching 272.
The Kingdom has witnessed a sudden jump in the number of affected individuals in the last two weeks, with the majority of cases reported in Jeddah.
Saudi Arabia replaced its health minister this week amidst rising public concern over the spread of virus.
The authorities have also announced that they are working to develop a vaccine to combat the MERS outbreak.
Experts have said that the virus, which is believed to be from the same family as SARS, does not transmit easily among humans and might eventually die.
However, MERS is also estimated to kill one-third of those infected.