2.5 million begin Hajj amid swine flu fears
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Last Updated: Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 17:52
Mecca: The world's largest annual religious pilgrimage began today overshadowed by the swine flu pandemic as 2.5 million Muslims amassed at the holy city of Mecca for the Hajj.

A rare rainstorm and possible banned protests by Iranian pilgrims also threatened to mar the four-day hajj, but Saudi officials said they were prepared for all eventualities.

A sea of pilgrims from all over the world, dressed in flowing white robes, surrounded the kaaba shrine inside Mecca's Grand Mosque for dawn prayers today.

Four pilgrims, all of them already suffering from other health problems, had died from swine ahead of the official start of Hajj rites.

But proven and suspected infections from the A(H1N1) flu amid hajj participants only number 67, Saudi health ministry spokesman Dr Khaled Marghlani told.

"Everything is going smoothly, thanks to God," he said. The flu has killed some 6,750 people around the world this year, the WHO said on Friday, and Saudi authorities have deployed as many as 20,000 health workers to deal with major outbreaks during the Hajj.

Marghlani said the threat of heavy rain in Mecca could raise the health risks for pilgrims, but that "We have planned for this possibility."


First Published: Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 17:52

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