Philippine News, Manila – The Department of Health (DOH) has urged Muslim Filipinos not to undertake the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, due to the outbreak of deadly MERS virus.
The 6,500 Filipinos who are likely to join the pilgrimage in October are being advised to postpone until next year, when it is expected the virus will be under control.
Lyndon Lee Suy, a health department spokesperson said, “We know its a religious custom, but it is also our duty to provide health advisories.
“Its an appeal for them to delay the trip if possible due to the MERS virus . If possible, they should go next year.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said in June that the number of new MERS cases was reducing, but vigilance was still needed for the Muslim pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia.
824 confirmed MERS cases have been recorded globally by the WHO, as of July 2, and at least 286 resulting deaths, mostly in Saudi Arabia. The virus is believed to be primarily transmitted through contact with camels, though the virus can also be contracted by close person to person contact.
According to government figures, at least 2 of the deaths in Saudi Arabia were Filipinos.
Millions of pilgrims visit holy sites in western Saudi Arabia, for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, that will take place in October this year, and for the Umrah, which takes place throughout the year.
While Filipino Muslims should undertake the Hajj at least once in their lives, many undertake to make the pilgrimage every year.
The government consulted Muslim government agencies as well as community leaders before issuing the advisory, Lee Suy said.
There are no plans to ban travel, but pilgrims will need to take a physical exam and get a medical certificate of good health from the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos before leaving the country.
High-risk groups such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women and those with diabetes, kidney disease, chronic lung disease or weak immunity, are particularly vulnerable to infection and are strongly advised not to make the trip this year.