Think twice about going on minor pilgrimage given Mers risk: Yaacob

Singaporean Muslims planning to go on the umrah, or minor pilgrimage, should weigh their decision because it may affect the health of people here, given the Mers virus, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.

He added that he understood the aspirations of the community to perform the umrah and haj as some have made extensive preparations and advance bookings.

However, he urged: "If you can postpone it, because maybe you have other opportunities in future, please give it some thought.

"We must not forget that this is not just about our health but about the entire community because if you bring back the virus, it can affect other people in Singapore."

Mers-COV, short for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, causes acute respiratory illness in infected patients. The virus is related to the one behind Sars, which killed 33 people here in the 2003 outbreak. There have been 305 Mers cases and 61 deaths in Saudi Arabia as of Wednesday.

Dr Yaacob urged Muslims who are going on the pilgrimage to take the necessary precautions, because 40 of the 48 suspected cases investigated locally for the virus were from pilgrims who went for umrah. All tested negative.

The Muslim travel agents association expects about 2,000 to 3,000 umrah bookings for June, typically the peak period for pilgrims because of the school holidays. Dr Yaacob said this period is not only popular because it is the June holidays, but also because some will want to fast during Ramadan next month in the holy land.

Muis had issued a travel advisory on Thursday advising pilgrims to ensure they are medically fit before departing and observe good hygiene at all times while overseas. It recommends that they get vaccinated against influenza and meningitis to prevent common infections which has similar symptoms as the Mers virus.

The Health Ministry has also announced that air travellers arriving from Mers-affected Middle East countries, including hot spots Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, will have their temperature screened as a precaution from Sunday.

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