No Travel Restrictions on Umrah and Haj Pilgrims
9 July 2009
DUBAI — No travel restrictions will be imposed on pilgrims heading for Umrah or Haj due to H1N1 (swine flu). This follows World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations, the Ministry of Health said on Wednesday, adding that an awareness campaign for pilgrims will be launched soon.
The ministry, has, however, advised children, the elderly, and pregnant women to avoid travel since their weak immune systems could put them at risk of contracting the disease.
“Following the WHO recommendations we have, so far, decided not to impose travel restrictions on pilgrims wishing to complete their religiousobligations,” said Dr Ali Shukr, Director-General of the ministry and chairman of the Technical Health Committee to Combat Swine Flu in the UAE.
The ministry also clarified that the meningitis vaccine (compulsory for all pilgrims) should not be considered a protection against swine flu.
“People should not believe rumours that some vaccines or drugs can prevent H1N1 infection. These are not true because the vaccine against the disease will be ready only by September,” he said. “Vaccinations now being administered at preventive health centres before people travel for Umrah cannot be considered a protection against swine flu.” He asked people to avoid self-administering drugs (Tamiflu and Relenza) before travel. “This should only be done under strict medical supervision,”
Dr Shukr also said the ministry had not mandated any centre to administer the vaccine against flu.
“The local mechanism for administering the vaccine will be based on WHO principles and will be followed after the vaccine is ready.”
The ministry is also coordinating with the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs to raise awareness levels among pilgrims through sermons in mosques.
The upcoming campaign will deal with preventive measures against the disease. Saudi Arabia, earlier this month, assured the UAE that all measures had been taken to protect pilgrims against the flu.
The Saudi plan envisages that pilgrims follow preventive measures in their home countries before obtaining entry visas to the holy lands.
On Tuesday, Oman banned the elderly and children from heading for Umrah, for fear of contracting the disease. However, it has not yet issued a ban for the main Haj pilgrimage. Other GCC countries have only issued warnings to the sick, elderly, children and pregnant women. The disease has claimed 382 lives across the world so far, and has infected 90,000 others.