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 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 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