The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that it would help Saudi Arabia dig deeper into deadly outbreaks of a new coronavirus to draw up advice ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage, which attracts millions of Muslims.
The U.N. agency, which is not currently recommending any restrictions on travel to the kingdom or screening of passengers at airports or entry points, will sent a second team of experts in the coming weeks, WHO director-general Margaret Chan said.
The virus, which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia, emerged in Saudi Arabia last year and has been found in 33 people there, killing 17. They are among 44 cases and 22 deaths worldwide, according to the WHO, which has called it the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
"Without that proper risk assessment, we cannot have clarity on the incubation period, on the signs and symptoms of the disease, on the proper clinical management and then, last but not least, on travel advice," Chan told the WHO's annual ministerial meeting in Geneva.
The WHO, which sent a first team to Saudi Arabia this month, will provide a fresh risk assessment ahead of this year's hajj, which takes place in October.
"We need to get the facts clear and get the appropriate advice to all your countries where your pilgrims want to go to Mecca. It is something quite urgent," Chan said.
Millions flock to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina for the hajj, although pilgrims come and go all year round...I'm no WHO expert, but given the way they do hajj (see below), my advice would be to skip it this year.