The New York Times runs a piece on how Saudi Arabia is preparing to confront swine flu in the context of the Haj. The article (here linked to my local newspaper, part of the NYT chain) notes that the Saudi authorities know that they cannot keep swine flu out of the country: Hajjis bring diseases with them; that’s simply a fact. Rather, they will be working to mitigate the spread of disease and hope that the various kinds of flu now prevalent in the world do not mix into something more dangerous.
The article is a good encapsulation of Saudi efforts. It does not, however, mention the pushback from many Saudis on the plans for vaccination. Conspiracy theories about the vaccine have had a truly disruptive effect, if Saudi media are to be believed. No one has yet discussed the effect of those conspiracy theories on pilgrims and whether or not they would avoid vaccination.
Saudis Try to Head Off Swine Flu Fears Before Hajj
DONALD G. McNEIL Jr
Every year, the single largest gathering on the planet is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca: 2.5 million people from 160 countries packed into a small city in Saudi Arabia for five days.
This year, some will be bringing swine flu.
The Saudi authorities, fearing that the hajj could turn their holy city into a petri dish for viral mutations and a hub for spreading a new pandemic wave around the world, are working hard to head that off. They have asked some worshipers, including pregnant women and the elderly, not to make the trip, which is scheduled for the last week of November.
“The hajj is a central ritual of Islam, and our country tries to make it easy for everyone to come,” said Dr. Ziad A. Memish, the country’s assistant deputy minister for preventive medicine. “We’ve said we won’t turn away anyone who arrives at our borders. But we are recommending to other countries whom they should let come.”
Reuters’ ‘Alert Net’ provides a listing of how various countries are restricting travel for Haj.
Also on ‘Alert Net’ is a piece about how the Haj cannot but affect the spread of swine flu: