Nine people out of more than half a million who have arrived for the annual Haj pilgrimage have been diagnosed with swine flu, Saudi Health Minister Dr Abdullah al Rabeeah said today. "The situation from the point of health, we are very happy. Out of the 600,000 arriving so far, we have only seen nine suspected cases of H1N1, and only two of those are in the hospital," Mr al Rabeeah said. "The rest were treated and they were discharged," he said.
Mr al Rabeeah said that altogether 70 people had died in the kingdom this year from swine flu, none of them pilgrims. The fatalities figure is up from 62 reported at the beginning of November, and the total number of proven cases is about 7,000, the minister said. Concern has mounted about the possibility of a major outbreak of the disease during the Haj, when more than three million Muslims converge on the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in western Saudi Arabia in the second half of November.
The Riyadh government has deployed about 20,000 health workers to deal with flu and other health emergencies among pilgrims, Mr al Rabeeah said. More than 6,000 deaths from H1N1 flu had been reported worldwide as of November 1, according to the World Health Organisation. In the UAE, the Ministry of Health announced this month that Haj pilgrims heading to Saudi Arabia this month must show proof of having had an H1N1 vaccination before being allowed to the country.