The swine-flu bump in the road to Mecca
Anxiety over swine-flu infection is mounting, casting a particularly long shadow of caution and concern in Britain. Last week, Sir Liam Donaldson, the UK’s chief medical officer, predicted that the country could see as many as 65,000 deaths by this fall, and yesterday newspapers reported that British airlines may ban passengers exhibiting symptoms from traveling. ...
Anxiety over swine-flu infection is mounting, casting a particularly long shadow of caution and concern in Britain. Last week, Sir Liam Donaldson, the UK’s chief medical officer, predicted that the country could see as many as 65,000 deaths by this fall, and yesterday newspapers reported that British airlines may ban passengers exhibiting symptoms from traveling. While there have only been 29 reported deaths so far in Britain, it appears the storm of H1N1 is coming early. And now it’s jeopardizing a holy journey.
Today, health officials from the Association of British Hujja warned Muslims to reconsider this year’s pilgrimage to Mecca, releasing this statement:
British pilgrims have always been at high risk of infections due to the crowded conditions at ceremonies, accommodation sites and on public transport. Therefore pilgrims must follow the guidelines issued by the authorities and they should be vaccinated against the swine flu virus once this vaccine is available at least two weeks before their departure to perform pilgrimage.”
The notice came after officials in Saudi Arabia advised all travelers to be vaccinated prior to making the trip, adding that those most vulnerable, “pregnant women, children, chronically ill and elderly people,” should simply stay at home this year. Other countries in the Middle East and Africa have issued similar warnings. Egypt did so after a woman, infected during a recent trip to Saudi Arabia, died of swine flu earlier this month — the first H1N1-related death in the country.
Ramadan begins late next month, and there’s no real sign yet how many Muslims planning to make the annual pilgrimage will be affected. Some 25,000 Muslims are expected to come from Britain alone. So far, religious leaders, like Egypt’s top cleric, are looking to the World Health Organization for guidance “on whether to issue a fatwa or decree barring all Egyptians from making the pilgrimage.”
So far, the death toll worldwide is 700, according to the WHO, representatives of which have said the virus is spreading with “unprecedented speed.”
It’s enough to make anyone look forward to getting their shots this year.
Rebecca Frankel was an editor at Foreign Policy from 2013-2018.
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