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Saudi Arabia to take Ebola precautions for the Hajj season

Saudi Arabian authorities are doing all they can to assure pilgrims that the upcoming Hajj will not be affected by the Ebola virus outbreak
Members of a volunteer medical team wearing special uniforms, carry the body of an Ebola victim in Sierra Leone (AA)

Hajj season is almost upon us, and in October an estimated three million Muslims from around the world will congregate in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to perform the Islamic pilgrimage.

Given the current fears over the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa - which has already killed more than 2,200 people - concerns are growing that such a mass congregation may lead to a further spread of the disease if an infected person or persons is found in the crowd.

The Saudi Arabian deputy health minister for planning and development, Mohammad al-Khasheem has tried to assuage the fears however by saying that all possible precautions are being taken to ensure that the upcoming Hajj is a safe one, with steps being taken to prevent an outbreak.

According to UAE-based Gulf News some of the precautions include the Kingdom's visa ban on pilgrims coming from the worst hit countries, primarily Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Saudi is, nevertheless, continuing to offer Hajj visas to people from countries with smaller outbreaks of Ebola such as Nigeria. 

“We have not stopped issuing Hajj visas to Nigerians and we know that about 70,000 pilgrims come from the African country every year,” al-Khasheem was quoted as saying by Saudi website, Arab News daily. 

Preventative measured also include special equipment at airports to detect anyone who may be infected. 

Khasheem said that over 22,000 medics will be deployed throughout the pilgrimage route, all of whom will be trained, to some degree, in the detection and treatment of Ebola victims.

"The health ministry is examining pilgrims coming from abroad at 16 entry points across the kingdom and at King Abdulaziz International Airport (KAIA) in Jeddah and Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Airport in Madinah," Khasheem said.

Hassan al-Bashri, the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in Saudi Arabia, also stressed that the Saudi health authorities are in regular communication with their counterparts in countries like Nigeria, Congo and Kenya, and are coordinating over precautions. 

Doctors and hospitals are also going to be standing by ready treat and monitor any emergency cases that may arise, Gulf News reported.