Saudi Arabia warns Hajj pilgrims about coronavirus


Muslim pilgrims walk around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque in Mecca during the annual Hajj.

Pilgrims heading to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj will be asked to wear face masks this year in an effort to control the outbreak of the deadly MERS coronavirus, while elderly and ill pilgrims will be asked to postpone their trip. 

The Saudi Arabian health ministry has issued some of its most stringent restrictions ever for the 2013 Hajj celebration, which millions of Muslims are expected to participate in this year.

More from GlobalPost: Should we worry about Saudi Arabia's lethal MERS virus? WHO expert answers

The restrictions, which are published on the health ministry website, include postponing the religiously-mandated pilgrimages of "elderly people and patients suffering from chronic diseases such as heart, kidney, respiratory and diabetes, as well as patients with congenital and acquired immune deficiency, in addition to patients suffering from tumors, and pregnant women and children."

It's unclear how these restrictions will be enforced at this time. 

Saudi Arabia appears to be the origin point for the deadly Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome or MERS coronavirus, which has thus far killed 38 people within the Middle Eastern nation after emerging there in September 2012.

It's unknown if the huge number of travelers expected for the Hajj will help to spread the MERS virus even further.

"There are already a lot of people coming into Saudi Arabia and going out of Saudi Arabia," WHO assistant director general for health security Dr Keiji Fukuda said in a GlobalPost interview.

"And in terms of are we worried? Yes, I think we’re always worried in a globalized world that infection can travel quickly from one country to another."

Others have been affected or killed outside of Saudi Arabia, though in lesser numbers. Most of these victims are thought to have traveled recently in the Middle East, or have had family members who recently visited the area, notes the CDC.