Govt. demands to delay pilgrimages over MERS-CoV exaggerated: tourism cos
Pilgrims touch Kaaba while on their Hajj - YOUM7 (Archive)
By NOURHAN MAGDI

CAIRO: Amid fears of the new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome corona-virus (MERS-CoV) spread in Egypt during pilgrimages, a number of tourism companies said the Health Ministry’s demands to delay travels to Saudi Arabia are “simply exaggerations.”

After the confirmation of one case of the new MERS-CoV in Egypt, detected on April 26, coming from Saudi Arabia, questions surfaced on whether or not pilgrimage tourism will be affected this year.

The ministry’s warnings were based on the susceptibility of the spread of the virus due to the close proximity of the pilgrims during either the annual Hajj ritual, which occurs once a year, or the minor pilgrimage (Umrah), which can take place all year round.

“Corona-virus has existed for a long time in Saudi Arabia, and it is not new,” Manager of Nada Plaza Tourism Company Mahmoud Fawzy told The Cairo Post Sunday. He added that the number of pilgrims who cancelled their reservations for Umrah in his company was about 6-7 of total 300, and most of them are either patients or elderly people.

Fawzy said that people are easily influenced by rumors in Egypt, and that he considers the cautions circulated on the media to be simply rumors.

“Although those who cancelled their bookings now are few, no one knows what will happen next,” continued Fawzy.

Additionally, he noted that there were no official statements by the Saudi authorities confirming the recent news on banning certain people from traveling; including those aged over 65, pregnant women and people with illnesses.

Waleed Khalil, the Manager of Taqwa Tourism Company, told The Cairo Post that the ministry’s warnings led to a number of cancellations in his company. “About 12 out of 125 requested a refund.”

“I went to Saudi Arabia this week, and the situation there is not worrisome,” added Khalil. He noted that he asked many doctors there and they answered that the virus is concentrated in Jeddah “due to the high humidity.”

“Egypt is exaggerating the state of alert regarding the MERS-CoV, while Saudi Arabia is not,” continued Kahlil.

The MERS-CoV is known to be more active and spreadable during the months of March and April, while it declines during the rest of the year, commented the Head of WHO-NIC Influenza Reference Laboratory in Egypt Nagwa el-Khouly.

Khouly added. in statements to The Cairo Post, that, “WHO did not take the decision to impose quarantine on Saudi Arabia, as the latest announced number of deaths, which is 111, does not imply that the virus has become epidemic.”

Nourhan Mohamed, a secretary in Masr el-Gedida Tourist Company, told The Cairo Post that the flow of registrations is going very well and that none of the pilgrims had cancelled their bookings to Saudi Arabia.

“We give the pilgrims the ordinary precautions they should be aware of during their travel, but nothing specific as we have not yet received any notices from the Saudi authorities,” she added.

A World Health Organization report stated that the means of transmission of the virus has not been specified, as such speculating that animals may be carriers.

The Ministry of Health said in a Sunday statement, that a total number of 57 suspected cases with MERS-CoV detected through the last week were all confirmed as “uninfected.”

An alert was issued by the ministry to citizens aged over 65, children less than 15, pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses, demanding that they delay their travel to Saudi Arabia this year, due to the increase in the number of infections there, Minister of Health Adel el-Adawy said in previous statements.

The World Health Organization says the symptoms of corona-virus in humans “range in severity from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).” MERS-CoV is a new strain of corona-virus that was detected in April 2012, and in fatal in roughly half of known cases. No vaccine has been developed yet.

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