Thai pilgrims to Mecca must be vaccinated first

Thai pilgrims to Mecca must be vaccinated first
Pilgrims in Arafah, Mecca.

The Public Health Ministry will ask the Saudi Embassy not to grant visas to Thais wishing to go on the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca if they fail to produce proof of vaccination.

This is in order to avoid an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) in Thailand.

Dr Opart Karnkawinpong, deputy chief of the Disease Control Department, said yesterday that the ministry would also require travel agents organising these pilgrimages to get registered and provide the ministry with details of the trip and names of the travellers.

Anybody who develops a fever, cough or breathing problems within 14 days of returning from countries reported with the Mers coronavirus must inform the health authority, he said.

Opart made the comment after holding a videoconference with provincial health officials yesterday.

Dr Surachet Satitramai, acting permanent secretary for the Public Health Ministry, who presided over the event, said he had confidence in the ministry's measures as its 13 laboratories could confirm a Mers infection in five to eight hours, quarantine units were ready and hospitals were equipped with disease-screening units.

This year, Mers infections have been detected in 10 countries, including South Korea and China (including Hong Kong).

Thailand must be ready to diagnose this disease fast, Opart said, adding that some 300,000 Middle Easterners visited Thailand every year, while Thai nationals also travelled to the Middle East in three groups; 20,000 businesspeople and workers; 20,000-30,000 pilgrims; and 50,000-80,000 tourists.

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