2.5 million begin Hajj amid swine flu fears
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."