Swine flu and the hajj

Last April, Egypt became a worldwide laughing-stock when the Mubarak regime ordered a mass slaughter of pigs in the mistaken belief that this would keep swine flu at bay.

Swine flu duly arrived – one victim being a young man whoreturned from Saudi Arabia with the disease after performing the lesser pilgrimage (umrah).

Having got over the idea that the H1N1 virus is spread by pigs rather than humans, most Arab countries are now addressing the issue in a more sensible fashion. One particular concern is the annual hajj, coming up in November. There are signs that the numbers attending – typically around two million – may fall this year because of health fears.

The Saudis, while unwilling to cancel the hajj, recognise that it could hasten the spread of the disease in Muslim countries and have warned that pregnant women, the elderly and people with asthma should not attend. However, this seems to be theirstandard advice, issued every year.

The kingdom has also ordered large supplies of vaccine but these appear to be intended for its own population. Countries that send pilgrims on the hajj are being encouraged to make their own arrangements. Kuwait is planning to vaccinate its entire (but relatively small) population by November.

For the benefit of anyone who is interested in following developments, I have set up an automated swine flu news pagewhich compiles the latest reports from around the region. Reports involving both swine flu and the hajj are appearing on the 
hajj news page. The Arabian Business website also has a useful compilation of articles about swine flu here.