The first batch of Haj pilgrims from the State this year is all set to leave for Mecca on Tuesday morning.
To ensure they are healthy and fit to travel, the health department along with the Tamil Nadu Haj Committee has screened the pilgrims and has also given them a list of precautionary measures in view of the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
MERS is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus. Coronaviruses are large families of viruses that cause illness in human and animals. Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries have reported cases of MERS-CoV since last year.
Officials said a total of 3,650 pilgrims from Tamil Nadu will visit Mecca in batches starting Tuesday. This includes nearly 700 pilgrims from Chennai. The majority of the pilgrims are in the age group of 50 to 70 years, and there are infants too, making health checks vital.
Pilgrims from other districts too, have started to arrive in the city.
“A total of 275 persons will leave for Jeddah by an 8 a.m. flight on Tuesday. The pilgrims will leave in batches till September 30. There are 12 flights scheduled,” an official said.
The Central government has informed the Haj committee about the spread of MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia he said, adding, “The pilgrims are being screened thoroughly and issued fitness/medical certificates before leaving. All of them are in good health. We have asked them to avoid close contact with people who have respiratory infections.”
Public health department officials said the situation in Saudi Arabia was not alarming and that the Central government has issued a travel advisory. “We have screened the pilgrims for fever and respiratory infections. We have told them to cough or sneeze using a handkerchief to cover their faces. As usual, we have given them meningococcal meningitis vaccine,” an official said.
“We will screen them when they return from Mecca. There is no need for screening at airports now,” he added. Officials said the pilgrims will return in batches from November 7 to 14.
A few months earlier, the World Health Organisation said countries should advise pilgrims that pre-existing major medical conditions such as diabetes and chronic lung disease could increase the likelihood of contracting illnesses including MERS-CoV. Pilgrims were asked to consult a healthcare provider before travelling to review their risks.