Mers Still Contained as Health Officials Prepare for Haj Pilgrimage

As Thailand’s first Mers patient continues to improve, preparations  are being made to ensure the safety of the over the 10,000 Thai Muslims who are expected to travel to Saudi Arabia this September for the Haj pilgrimage.

2015-0623 Mers Still Contained as Health Officials Prepare for Haj Pilgrimage

A group of Muslim pilgrims from Thailand prepares to leave for the Haj in Saudi Arabia last August. Last year, 10,400 Thai Muslims made the trip, 8,000 of them from the deep South. None were infected with the Mers virus, but health officials in both countries are stepping up precautionary measures to keep the pilgrims disease-free. WAEDAO HARAI

Mers still contained as health officials prepare for Haj pilgrimage

First of all, the condition of Thailand’s only Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) victim to date, a 75-year-old man for Oman, seems to be improving, according to Surachet Satitramai, the Public Health Ministry’s acting permanent secretary.

“The condition of the Mers patient is better overall,” he said. “The chest x-rays show improvement and he can eat soft food.”

Three relatives of the man, also being kept in isolation rooms at the institute, had tested negative for the virus, said Dr Surachet.

A new worry has emerged, however, since about 10,000 Thai Muslims are expected to travel to Saudi Arabia this September for the Haj pilgrimage pilgrimage Meaning: a journey that a person makes to a holy place (a person making a pilgrimage is a pilgrim) Thai Translation: เดินทางแสวงบุญ

Fortunately, the risk of infection may not be as high as you might expect. According to the highly-respected British medical magazine the Lancet, “no MERS cases were associated with the 2013 and 2014 Haj pilgrimages.”

Here are details of preparations for this year’s pilgrimage from this morning’s Bangkok Post:

Haj pilgrimage spurs new Mers outbreak fear

Over 10,000 Thais to visit Saudi Arabia

Paritta Wangkiat
Penchan Charoensuthipan

The Public Health Ministry and airport authorities have stepped up preventative measures to stop the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) when more than 10,000 Thai Muslim pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia for the haj pilgrimage in September.

The country’s first confirmed case of Mers, a 75-year-old man from Oman, raised concerns over the possible infection of people going to and from Saudi Arabia.

According to the Department of Religious Affairs, 10,400 people from Thailand are likely to attend the Muslim pilgrimage, which will take place in late September. Visitors will begin leaving for Riyadh in August, and return as late as October.

Surachet Satitramai, the Public Health Ministry’s acting permanent secretary, said Muslims will not be stopped from attending the haj.

However, when people return they will be monitored for 14 days to a month to make sure they are safe from infection, Dr Surachet said.

If anyone develops a fever or flu-like symptoms, they will be placed in isolation and observed at a hospital.

The Public Health Ministry will ask tour companies to submit the names of those who are travelling to Saudi Arabia and they will be required to attend a class about communicable diseases in the Middle East and prevention practices.

As usual, people who make the pilgrimage to Mecca will have to take flu and yellow fever vaccines. Doctors approved by the Public Health Ministry will accompany pilgrims to Medina and Mecca, centres for the annual haj.

“For three years, we have implemented such measures with the haj. We will intensify it this year against the Mers epidemic,” said Dr Surachet.

Religious Affairs Department officers in the southern border provinces insist that no Muslims have cancelled their planned trip so far.

About 300 Thais will be the first to leave on a charter flight Aug 16, said Wae-yuso Sama-ali, head of the department’s public relations team. Others will follow until mid-September. The haj will begin about Sept 20.


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