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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome not a public health concern for now

Pilgrims advised to practice good hygiene

Gulf News

Dubai: Residents in the UAE and those who wish to take the umrah pilgrimage to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, have been reassured that the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is not a public health concern at the moment.

The UAE Ministry of Health (MOH) reassures the public that the detected cases globally — 80 laboratory-confirmed cases — continue to be very low compared to other types of flu.

The reassurance follows the diagnosed case of an 82-year-old Emirati man in Abu Dhabi. The patient was in the ICU as of Thursday [July 11].

The statement released on the same day [July 11] by the Health Authority in Abu Dhabi (HAAD) and the Ministry of Health has the updated information.

The statement reiterated that the situation does not call for concern and that authorities are monitoring the situation closely. The case in Abu Dhabi represents the first diagnosed case of the disease within UAE.

However, because of the mass gathering for Umrah, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises pilgrims to practice good hygiene and pay attention to their health. The virus has been shown to spread between people who are in close contact.

The body says that the virus can spread from person to person through close contact, so pilgrims living and travelling in close quarters may be at risk.

The Embassy of Saudi Arabia further recommends that the elderly, the terminally ill, pregnant women, and children to postpone their plans for Haj and Umrah.

Amidst the fatalities reported in the media linking the spread of MERS, pilgrims are advised to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses by thoroughly washing hands often; not touching their mouth, nose, or eyes; and avoiding contact with sick people.

Further they should pay attention to their health when travelling and seek medical care if they develop a fever and cough or shortness of breath within 14 days after returning from their trip.

Speaking to Gulf News, Khalid Jamal Al Matrooshi, a 23-year-old Emirati who is currently in Saudi Arabia for Umrah said “I heard about the coronavirus, but I did not stop myself from going [for Umrah] because many people known to me have been there and returned healthy to the UAE. So I thought it would be okay.”

He added, “I understand how dangerous this virus is. If there was any vaccination that would help, I would have taken it before leaving for Saudi Arabia.”

In the past, Gulf News reported that health authorities in the country are closely monitoring border entry points with Saudi Arabia to ensure early detection of suspected cases.

A senior official from the Ministry had said that hospitals and clinics across the country have been notified to report any suspicious cases. And that procedures are in place to ensure normal vigilance.

A source told Gulf News that the entry points will continue to be monitored, but reconfirmed that there won’t be a travel ban to any country, screenings at ports or restrictions on trade as advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

— With inputs from Mary Achkhanian, intern at Gulf News