Hajj sparks swine flu fears6th October 2009
Countries in the Arab world have begun to try to stop the spread of swine flu before the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Most Arabic-speaking countries are imposing various restrictions, mostly around who can travel.
Around two million foreigners are expected to come to Medina and Mecca during the Hajj, which will occur this year at the height of flu season.
Both pilgrimages will undoubtedly contribute to the spread of swine flu worldwide.
However, Saudi Arabia issued a statement saying that very few cases, all nonfatal, were reported in the country during Ramadan, when several million foreigners entered the country as part of the Umrah pilgrimage.
The Umrah is a pilgrimage like the Hajj which can be done at any time of the year, and which peaks during Ramadan.
The swine flu death total in Saudi Arabia is relatively low, with 29 people dead as a result of contracting the virus.
The Saudi Arabian health ministry is recommending that all Hajj pilgrims be vaccinated against both seasonal flu and swine flu, if possible.
Egypt, which is the most populous country in the Arab world, has lowered its numbers of expected pilgrims by up to 40% this year.
Egyptian Health Minister Hatem al-Jabali said recently that a decision could be made at any time to cancel the Hajj for Egyptians this year.
The country, which has had 900 cases of the disease so far, has also shut down its schools in order to contain the disease.
The country's 250,000 pigs were also slaughtered in a move that was criticised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The Egyptain government maintains that the culling of the country's pigs was a public hygiene measure.
Opponents of the move maintain that the pigs were eating a lot of the city's garbage, and that now that they are gone the city's waste collection problem is much worse.
The WHO said that the move was not necessary, because the pigs were not spreading swine flu to humans.
Tunisia has urged people not to go on the Hajj this year, and Morocco has required that anyone traveling to Saudi Arabia must be vaccinated.
Iraq and Iran both banned people from travelling to Saudi Arabia during Ramadan for the Umrah pilgrimage.
According to the WHO, swine flu has killed 3,917 people since its appearance in April.
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