Saudi Downplays Virus Impact On Haj

Although no new cases of the virus have been detected so far, Saudi officials and the WHO are monitoring the situation.



Saudi Arabia’s health officials have stressed that there is no threat to Haj pilgrims from the possible outbreak of a new virus in the Kingdom.

“There have been two cases of flu over a period of time. This is normal,” health ministry spokesman Khaled Al-Mirghalani told AFP.

“There are no changes to the conditions put by the Health Ministry to pilgrims,” he said.

However, authorities will remain alert to the situation, he added.

Ziyad Memish, the undersecretary for preventive medicine at the ministry, said the “new virus has been in the Kingdom for three months.” But he added that the situation was “stable and no new cases have been recorded.”

The new virus, called a coronavirus, comes from the same family as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that emerged in China in 2002, infecting 8,000 people and killing 800 of them.

While one of the people affected by the coronavirus died in Saudi Arabia, a 49-year-old Qatari man, who recently travelled to the Kingdom, is the second person infected by it.

The Qatari man is currently in the UK and remains critically ill in hospital, said the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO has also confirmed that it is working with officials in the Kingdom to oversee the health measures in place for Haj.

More than two million pilgrims gather in the Saudi cities of Mecca and Madina for the annual pilgrimage.

Meanwhile, the WHO said it was identifying laboratories to provide more expertise on coronaviruses.

“Though it is a very different virus from SARS, given the severity of the two confirmed cases so far, WHO is engaged in further characterising the novel coronavirus,” it said.