MERS virus won’t stop Filipino Muslims from Mecca pilgrimage

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This file photo provided by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a colorized transmission of the MERS coronavirus that emerged in 2012. AP

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Filipino Muslims are not deterred from the annual hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca even by the high incidence in Saudi Arabia of the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome caused by the Corona virus, according to an official of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos here.

In fact, according to Yaser Apion, head of the commission’s Western Mindanao office, some 2,500 individuals from Zamboanga City, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi had submitted documents required for the pilgrimage when the deadline for such submissions came on June 30. Less than 2,000 did so last year.

Apion noted in an interview on Thursday that there has been no advisory from the Saudi Ministry of Hajj to prevent pilgrims from traveling to Mecca, which is why the NCMF has no basis to prevent Filipino Muslims from leaving the country.

“We can only discourage them, especially those who are 65 years old and above, and those not physically fit. We do not only dissuade the elderly from going to Mecca due to the Mers-CoV threat but also because of the physical rigors of the hajj,” he said.

Apion said his office made every elderly pilgrim understand that it was not obligatory for them to go on the hajj – one of the five pillars of Islam.

But Apion said even then, the NCMF could not do anything if an elderly applicant insists on going to Mecca.

He said like any other pilgrim, they were made to undergo at least four vaccinations, which could help protect them from upper respiratory infections and other diseases before being issued a visa by the Saudi Arabian government.

In Cotabato City, the Department of Health of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao continued to urge Muslim Filipinos to postpone their pilgrimage to avoid contracting MERS.

“Nobody can ever say who will get infected and who will not. A pilgrim who gets infected can pass on the infection to family members once he or she is back home,” Dr. Kadil Sinolinding, ARMM regional health secretary, told reporters on Thursday.

Sinolinding said while the disease did not target specific age groups, most vulnerable were the elderly and those whose immune systems had been “compromised” due to other diseases.

“This is not to suppress the centuries-old tradition of performing the hajj,” he said, adding that “it is about protecting the pilgrims from MERS-CoV and their families and neighbors too when they return to the country.”

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