There are no reported cases of swine flu among Haj pilgrims from the UAE arriving in Mecca, officials said yesterday. "All cases that frequented the health clinics associated with the Missions or the Haj contractors have suffered from diseases that are common during the Haj season," said Dr Abdul Karim al Zarounie, the head of the medical committee of the UAE Official Haj Mission.
An estimated 2.5 million Muslims will attend the official beginning of Haj today. The influx of people from around the world has led to fears of a mass outbreak of the H1N1 virus. Of the 67 pilgrims so far found to be suffering from the disease, four have died. All four were suffering from other health problems in addition to the virus, officials said. "We have a strategic stockpile of medicines that [deal with] chronic diseases like blood pressure, diabetes, cardiac disorders, asthma and others," said Dr al Zarounie.
"We also have antibiotic and antiviral drugs, including those treating the H1N1 flu. "We have a stock of medicines that is far more than our needs. We have distributed some of these medicines to the health clinics of Haj contractors free of charge so as to prescribe them to patients, but under our supervision." In addition, the Saudi government has brought in 20,000 health workers to deal with any swine flu outbreak during the holy week.
"Everything is going smoothly, thanks to God," said Dr Khaled Marghlani, the Saudi health ministry spokesman. There were concerns that unexpected heavy rainstorms yesterday would increase the likelihood of an outbreak of H1N1 among the pilgrims. However, the ministry said it was fully prepared for any such outcome. Meanwhile, the two-lane road into Mecca was partially closed after the downpour caused flooding, reducing its capacity by half. Delays of several hours were reported last night.
"It cannot handle the pressure of all the people coming from outside Mecca," said Amer al Amer, a spokesman for the Saudi interior ministry. Pilgrims will be evacuated if the flooding becomes dangerous, with 300 buses, provided by Saudi civil defence, on standby. There were reports yesterday that the Iranian delegation will hold a protest in their own camp in Mina valley, despite political acts being banned. The Iranians are reportedly concerned about the treatment of Shiite pilgrims.