Emirati pilgrims not swayed by Mers cases in Saudi Arabia and will travel for the Haj

The number of cases of the deadly virus has increased in recent months – particularly in Saudi Arabia – but travel agents say they do not expect their customer numbers to fall.
More than two million pilgrims are expected to descend on Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the Haj, raising fears that Mers could spread to visitors from across the globe. AP Photo
More than two million pilgrims are expected to descend on Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the Haj, raising fears that Mers could spread to visitors from across the globe. AP Photo

Travel agents do not expect a fall in numbers of pilgrims

ABU DHABI // Pilgrims have dismissed concerns about Mers in Saudi Arabia and are determined to travel there for the Haj.

The number of cases of the potentially fatal virus has increased in recent months – particularly in Saudi Arabia, where millions will gather in Mecca after Ramadan – but travel agents say they do not expect a drop in their customer numbers.

“We are not afraid. We have decided we will go to Mecca,” said Emirati Adil Al Awadi, from Ras Al Khaimah.

“I have been listening about it [Middle East Respiratory Syndrome] in the media but I have not found anyone who has cancelled a trip due to this coronavirus. All devout will travel to Mecca as usual to perform the Haj and nothing can stop them,” Mr Al Awadi said. “Precautions must be taken but we shouldn’t stop travelling or leave the place because of some disease.”

Dr Hamad Al Ameri, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi, agreed. “Muslims who believe in destiny and Allah would not feel afraid. Those who are determined to travel, will travel,” he said.

Mers coronavirus was first identified in 2012 and the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of infection stands at 261, including 93 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.

But Saudi Arabia said on Friday the number of Mers deaths in the kingdom had risen to 107.

The UAE Ministry of Health has ruled out the prospect of any travel ban to Saudi Arabia for the Haj.

Heath Authority – Abu Dhabi (Haad) has provided several guidelines for preventing respiratory illnesses, which include: wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds; cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze; clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces; and wear masks at mass gatherings, such as the Haj.

Travel agents expect it to be business as usual this year.

“Last year there was much hue and cry about Mers but nothing happened – we received Haj pilgrims as usual,” said Ahmed Mustapha, manager at Aleetisam for Haj and Umrah, in Dubai.

“I don’t think this year there will be any change of mood. We have not even started receiving applications. We are awaiting dates from the Saudi Arabia embassy in the UAE for submitting applications for Haj visas.”

Faisal Khan, who works at Al Burj Haj and Umrah Travel and Tours, in Abu Dhabi, said it had not received any guidelines from health authorities yet.

However, Mr Khan ruled out any fear among applicants as a result of Mers and said travellers would also get the regular vaccines against influenza.

“Last year we had reports about this but nobody who travelled there was infected. They are administered with vaccines prescribed by the health authority. It is compulsory to take those vaccines before travel, otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed.”

Haad has said Mers was not a public-health concern and has urged people to remain calm.

Last year about 5,000 pilgrims from the UAE made the Haj, which this year is expected to fall during the first week of October.

anwar@thenational.ae

Published: May 1, 2014 04:00 AM

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