New virus to be investigated before haj

New virus to be investigated before haj

GENEVA - Reuters
New virus to be investigated before haj

People wear a mask as a precautionary measure against the virus. REUTERS photo

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on May 24 that it would help Saudi Arabia dig deeper into deadly outbreaks of a new SARS-like virus to draw up advice ahead of the annual haj pilgrimage, which attracts millions of Muslims.

The U.N. agency, which is not currently recommending any restrictions on travel to the kingdom or screening of passengers at airports or entry points, will sent a second team of experts in the coming weeks, WHO director-general Margaret Chan said.

The virus emerged in Saudi Arabia last year and has been found in 33 people there, killing 17. “Without that proper risk assessment, we cannot have clarity on the incubation period, on the signs and symptoms of the disease, on the proper clinical management and then, last but not least, on travel advice,” Chan told the WHO’s annual ministerial meeting in Geneva.

The WHO, which sent a first team to Saudi Arabia this month, will provide a fresh risk assessment ahead of this year’s haj, which takes place in October.

Millions flock to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina for the haj, although pilgrims come and go all year round.