The Middle East Plague Goes Global -- Foreign Policy
A scary virus is sweeping Saudi Arabia. Six million religious pilgrims are about to descend on the country from across the world. The result could be disastrous.
When the Black Death exploded in Arabia in the 14th century, killing an estimated third of the population, it spread across the Islamic world via infected religious pilgrims. Today, the Middle East is threatened with a new plague, one eponymously if not ominously named the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV, or MERS for short). This novel coronavirus was discovered in Jordan in March 2012, and as of June 26, there have been 77 laboratory-confirmed infections, 62 of which have been in Saudi Arabia; 34 of these Saudi patients have died.
Although the numbers -- so far -- are small, the disease is raising anxiety throughout the region. But officials in Saudi Arabia are particularly concerned.
This fall, millions of devout Muslims will descend upon Mecca, Medina, and Saudi Arabia's holy sites in one of the largest annual migrations in human history. In 2012, approximately 6 million pilgrims came through Saudi Arabia to perform the rituals associated with umrah, and this number is predicted to rise in 2013. Umrah literally means "to visit a populated place," and it's the very proximity that has health officials so worried.
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My Comment: A good friend of mine is an epidemiologist .... and he has conveyed to me his deep concerns about this virus. But even with this awareness .... both here and in the Middle East .... there is zero chance that Saudi Arabia is going to cancel the Hajj. Faced with this fact .... there is little that we can do except pray and hope that these concerns do not become a reality.