Pilgrims heading to Mecca are being asked to help prevent the spread of swine flu. A campaign to raise awareness of the H1N1 virus among pilgrims was launched by the Ministry of Health yesterday, the state news agency, WAM, reported. Preachers at tomorrow's sermons have been asked to highlight the measures visitors to Mecca can take, such as frequent hand-washing and keeping their distance from anyone displaying flu-like symptoms.
Tour operators said this week that the number of pilgrims embarking on Umrah - optional trips to the holy site taken at any time - had declined sharply on fears of swine flu and because of the global financial crisis. Hajj, an obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims, is expected to take place at the end of November. It is traditionally a time of spiritual reflection, but brings exposure to illness and disease because of the cramped and crowded conditions.
Nearly 95,000 cases of swine flu have been reported globally with 429 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation. The ministry has recorded 20 cases in the UAE but no deaths. firstname.lastname@example.org