Skip to main content

Saudi Arabia warns pilgrims to wear masks to stop spread of virus

By Ben Brumfield and Yousuf Basil, CNN
updated 9:00 PM EDT, Sun July 14, 2013
Saudi policemen, wearing protective masks against swine flu, stand guard near the holy city of Mecca on November 28, 2009.
Saudi policemen, wearing protective masks against swine flu, stand guard near the holy city of Mecca on November 28, 2009.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Saudi Arabia is preparing for an onslaught of religious pilgrims
  • The Health Ministry wants to prevent the spread of the new respiratory disease, MERS
  • MERS kills more than half the people it is known to infect
  • But it is unlikely to become a pandemic, health officials say

(CNN) -- Saudi Arabia is asking pilgrims to cover their mouths with a mask while in crowded places -- or risk spreading a deadly disease.

In four months, the holy city of Mecca opens its doors to millions of Muslim pilgrims for the annual Hajj, with multitudes congregating at the same holy places at the same time. Others visit during the holy month of Ramadan, which started this week.

It's a perfect scenario for catching and spreading the relatively new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has befallen Saudi Arabia almost exclusively, state-run SPA news agency reports.

What is the Hajj?

The ailment, caused by the coronavirus, wreaks havoc on the respiratory systems of those who contract it.

2012: Hajj - The pilgrimage to Mecca
2012: How to make the best of the Hajj

More than half of those known to have caught it have died. Of 81 infected worldwide, 45 have died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Of the total cases, 66 were in Saudi Arabia, where 38 people succumbed to it.

It mainly affects older men, the CDC says. So far, there is little to indicate that it could become the kind of deadly pandemic SARS was, though it is caused by a related virus.

All Muslims must undertake the journey at least once in their lifetime, and the government is telling them to add some preventative health requirements to their spiritual rituals.

Mecca redevelopment sparks heritage concerns

Most of them are common sense recipes for stopping the spread of the common cold:

Wash hands, especially after coughing and sneezing; throw used tissues in the trash; don't touch your eyes, nose and mouth while in public places.

And the Health Ministry wants people to wear a surgical mask while in crowded locations.

People with challenged immune systems should avoid travel to the birthplace of Islam for now, the ministry said. This includes people with chronic diseases such as diabetes and those infected with HIV.

Also, while in Saudi Arabia, the Health Ministry requests, please, don't sneeze in other people's faces.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:01 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
The U.S. has promised to supply and train "acceptable" rebels in Syria to counter ISIS. But who are they and are can the strategy work?
updated 8:39 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Branded an "extremist" by China's state-run media, Joshua Wong isn't even old enough to drive.
updated 2:55 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised political pundits with his rapid rise to power. CNN meets the man behind the enigma.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Liverpool's Italian forward Mario Balotelli reacts during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Liverpool and Ludogorets Razgrad at the Anfield stadium in Liverpool on September 16, 2014.
British police launched an investigation into abusive tweets sent to Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli.
updated 7:44 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
A woman who was texting her husband before he was killed reflects on the Westgate attack.
updated 6:49 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
British PM David Cameron has had the narrowest of political escapes.
The burial leader. The hospital gatekeeper. The disease detective. All telling powerful, stories from West Africa.
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
The real secret to a faster commute has been with us all along -- the bus.
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
13 brands retained their Top 20 status from last year, according to an annual survey.
updated 11:49 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Think your new tattoo is cool? Look at how our ancestors did it and think again.
updated 7:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT