The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued an interim travel advice on the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) which has affected nine countries so far. It provides guidance to national authorities of countries from which pilgrims will be travelling in the coming months for Umra and Haj, for the prevention, detection and management of imported cases of MERS-CoV.

Since at this time the risk to an individual pilgrim of contracting is considered very low, it does not recommend any travel or travel restrictions or entry screening.

The WHO has `encouraged’ countries to raise awareness of travel advice to reduce the risk of MERS-CoV infection among pilgrims and those associated with their travel, including transport operators and ground staff, and about self-reporting of illness by travellers. It says the countries should ensure that routine measures are in place for assessing ill travellers detected on board conveyances (such as planes and ships) and at points of entry, as well as measures for safe transportation of symptomatic travellers to hospitals or designated facilities for clinical assessment and treatment. If a sick traveller is on board a plane, a passenger locator form can be used. This form is useful for collecting contact information for passengers, which can be used for follow-up if necessary.

Describing travellers to Umra and Hajj, as particularly vulnerable groups within this population, the advisory recommends countries should advise pilgrims that pre-existing major medical conditions (chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, immuno deficiency) can increase the likelihood of illness, including MERS-CoV infection, during travel.

Countries should make information known to departing pilgrims and travel organisations on general travel health precautions, which will lower the risk of infection in general, including illnesses such as influenza and traveller’s diarrhoea.

Health advisories should be made available to all departing travellers to Umra or Hajj by working with the travel and tourism sectors and placing such materials at strategic locations.