CAIRO: Head of the Preventive Medicine Department at Egypt’s Ministry of Health Dr. Amr Kandil announced Thursday that a travel ban to Saudi Arabia during the pilgrimage season might be imposed to curb a possible outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) disease, commonly known as coronavirus, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm.
“All the precautionary measures are possible depending on the epidemiological situation in Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” said Kandil.
The statement comes over the notable rising numbers of MERS-CoV infections in Saudi Arabia.
In a Thursday phone interview with Al-Nahar satellite station, Minister of Health Dr. Adel Awadi urged people less than 15-years old, elders, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases to postpone the religious ritual of Hajj (pilgrimage) or Umrah (Minor Pilgrimage).
Muslims must perform the annual Hajj ritual only once a year at a specific time according to the Islamic Calendar while the rituals of the minor pilgrimage (Umrah) could be performed at any time of the year.
“Those people are susceptible to MERS infection in a gathering more than others,” said Awadi.
In his Thursday fatwa (religious legal opinion), Dr. Mohamed Othman, a member of the Al-Azhar Council of Senior Scholars approved the Health Ministry’s notion to prevent Muslims from travelling to Saudi Arabia to fulfill Hajj / Umrah rituals in case of the outbreak of MERS-CoV, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm.
“If fulfilling one of the five corners upon which Islam is based on [pilgrimage] would endanger the lives of the people or their health … there will be no problem in postponing it to next year,” said Othman.
Chairperson of the Holding Company for Biological Products & Vaccines (VACSERA), Dr. Nabil El-Biblawy said that the company intends to develope a vaccine to improve children’s immunity against the MERS-Cov, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm.
On April 26, Egypt’s Ministry of Health reported the first laboratory-confirmed case of infection with MERS-CoV, according to an official statement issued by the Health Ministry.
The patient is a 27 year-old man who became ill on April 22, returned to Egypt on April 25 and was laboratory-confirmed with MERS-CoV on April 26. The patient is currently in stable condition, the statement added.
Saudi Arabia reported 138 cases identified between April 11-26 including preliminary details of cases and deaths associated with the outbreak in Jeddah, according to a World Health Organization statement on Thursday.
Along with Saudi Arabia, the virus has been reported in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt and Oman.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that includes viruses that may cause a range of illnesses in humans, from the common cold to SARS. Viruses of this family also cause a number of animal diseases.
Symptoms, which include persistent fever and cough, are similar to those associated with the SARS virus.
No known cure is available for MERS-CoV so far.
It destroys the lungs and kidneys and it is presumed that long-term physical contact can lead to infection.