With MERS-COV still brewing in Saudi Arabia, all eyes are looking towards that country as the big Islamic holidays kick in later this year. Both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia MOH and the United States CDC have issued guidance for those planning to make the pilgrimage.
The Hajj is expected to fall this year between October 13-18, 2013. The exact dates of Islamic holidays cannot be determined in advance, due to the nature of the Islamic lunar calendar. Estimates are based on expected visibility of the hilal (waxing crescent moon following a new moon) and may vary according to location.
The Umrah is a pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of the year. It is sometimes called the ‘minor pilgrimage’ or ‘lesser pilgrimage’, the Hajj being the ‘major’ pilgrimage and which is compulsory for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. The Umrah is not compulsory but highly recommended.
Saudi Ministry of MERS-COV Health Guidance
The Saudi Ministry of Health has the following MERS-COV recommendations: elderly (above 65 years of age) and those with chronic diseases (e.g. heart disease, kidney disease, respiratory disease, diabetes) and pilgrims with immune deficiency (congenital and acquired), malignancy and terminal illnesses, pregnant women and children (under 12) postpone the performance of the Hajj and Umrah this year for their own safety.
The Saudi Ministry of Health also advises all pilgrims to comply with common public health guidelines to curb the spread of respiratory infectious disease, which can be summarized as follows:
- Wash hands with soap and water or disinfectant, especially after coughing and sneezing.
- Use disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing and dispose it in the wastebasket.
- Try as much as possible to avoid hand contact with the eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoid direct contact with the infected persons (people with symptoms such as cough, sneeze, expectoration, vomiting, and diarrhea) and do not share their personal gadgets.
- Wearing masks, especially when in crowded places.
- Maintain good personal hygiene.
CDC Health Guidance
At this time, CDC does not recommend changing travel plans for Hajj or Umrah because of MERS. To learn more about CDC’s travel recommendations for MERS, please see the travel health notice, A Novel Coronavirus Called “MERS-CoV” in the Arabian Peninsula.