Swine flu and the hajj

Muslim states act to keep the most at-risk away from Mecca

Arab health ministers banned children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses from attending the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia this year over fears the mass gathering could speed the spread of swine flu. In a meeting in Cairo that ended late Wednesday, the ministers, however, stopped short of calling for the cancellation of this year’s hajj—a duty for all able-bodied Muslims in their lifetime. The ritual attracts about three million people every year to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The ban, which applies to adults over the age of 65 and children under 12, could affect a large number of people because many Muslims save up their whole lives to make the trip and others go to cleanse their souls before dying. The ministers hope that excluding those most vulnerable to swine flu will reduce the possibility of contagion during the hajj, which takes place in late November following peak flu season.

Associated Press