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Infectious diseases: Airlines put on alert
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 11 - 06 - 2014


Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — The General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) has asked all airline companies operating in the Kingdom's airports to immediately report passengers suspected of having infectious diseases.
"The pilots should inform air traffic services or air traffic control at the airport of any passenger suspected to be suffering from an infectious illness," GACA told the airline companies in an official circular.
According to Makkah daily on Tuesday, the procedure was part of precautionary measures being taken by the Health Ministry to prevent the spread of contagious diseases, specifically the deadly Ebola virus.
The ministry warned airlines to take particular note of pilgrims coming from some west African countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. It said symptoms of the disease include bleeding from the mouth, eyes, nose or skin, high fever, serious headaches, joint pain, diarrhea, vomiting, difficulty in breathing and a loss of appetite.
GACA asked officials at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, King Fahd International Airport in Dammam and Prince Muhammad Bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah to make thorough plans to prevent the entry of any Ebola sufferers.
It said any passenger showing any symptoms of the virus should be immediately sent to any hospital with a quarantine section.
The ministry said pilgrims from the three western African countries should be closely observed in their accommodation places in Makkah and Madinah until the disease's incubation period of three weeks is over. It said the diseases could not be contracted during this period.
The ministry last April asked the government departments responsible for the issuance of Haj and Umrah visas not to issue visas for pilgrims from the three African countries.
It said the virus can spread quickly, especially among crowds. Saudi Arabia sees a constant stream of pilgrims throughout the year from around the world, and their numbers swell during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins in late June.
The Haj pilgrimage — which Islam says is a duty of all able-bodied Muslims to perform once in their lives — brings even more gigantic crowds. Some 2 million pilgrims from all over the world, packed into the close quarters as they visit the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site, and other locations in and around Makkah for a period of around 45 days. This year, Haj starts in early October.
The call for alert has taken on greater urgency as Saudi Arabia struggles to contain a surge in infections from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS. The country has seen the most infections worldwide.
So far Makkah has seen fewer cases than other parts of Saudi Arabia. Since the coronavirus was first discovered in 2012, there have been two Haj pilgrimages to the city and neither saw instances of pilgrims being infected.
Most of the cases that have appeared outside Saudi Arabia, including two in the United States, have been from foreigners returning home from work in the Kingdom or from Saudis traveling abroad.


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