Skip to main content

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

By Ben Brumfield and Yousuf Basil, CNN
July 15, 2013 -- Updated 0100 GMT (0900 HKT)
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
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
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