DOH worried for Pinoys attending Hajj after virus alert
MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Health (DOH) is concerned about next month's Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca after a global alert for a SARS-like respiratory virus that may have originated in Saudi Arabia.
"Many Filipinos attend the Hajj and that's our biggest challenge," said DOH Assistant Secretary Dr. Eric Tayag, DOH assistant secretary.
Dr. Tayag advised all Pinoys who are planning to travel to Mecca to get vaccinated, a strict requirement of the Saudi government.
"They won't allow into their country anyone who isn't vaccinated," he told Rappler in Filipino.
SARS-like mystery virus
The concern comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) issued on Monday a global alert on Monday for the mystery virus, which left a man from Qatar critically ill in a London hospital and killed at least one more in Saudi Arabia.
The novel infection is cause by a coronavirus similar to but not exactly like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which swept out of China in 2003 and killed more than 800 people worldwide.
Dr. Tayag noted that while both infections are respiratory in nature, novel coronaviruses cause kidney failure.
Whatever the case, he assured the public that the DOH will put in place the same preventive and contingency measures approved during the SARS epidemic a decade ago, such as special quarantine rooms inside hospitals.
"We have maintained the SARS rooms in our hospitals, and we have a surveillance system," the official said a day after OFWs in the Middle East were advised to observe proper hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus.
WHO advising Saudis
The global health watchdog said Wednesday it knew of no more cases but was advising Saudi Arabia ahead of the upcoming Hajj.
"WHO is working closely with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as in previous years, to support the country's health measures for all visitors participating in the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca next month," the UN agency said in a statement.
Meanwhile, pilgrims have already begun to arrive in the country for the ritual that represents the world's largest annual gathering.
Last year, nearly three million Muslim pilgrims attended the Hajj, which represents one of the five pillars of Islam and must be performed at least once in a lifetime by all Muslims who are able to do so.
Saudi health authorities have downplayed the chances of an outbreak of the mystery illness, adding that there were no changes on travel conditions for pilgrims. - Rappler.com, with reports from Agence France-Presse