Weigh move to go on Mid-East holy trip: Yaacob

Weigh move to go on Mid-East holy trip: Yaacob
File photo of the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Singaporean Muslims planning to go on the umrah, or minor pilgrimage, should weigh their decision because it may affect the health of people here, given the Mers virus, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.

He added that he understood the aspirations of the community to perform the umrah and haj as some have made extensive preparations and advance bookings.

However, he urged: "If you can postpone it, because maybe you have other opportunities in future, please give it some thought.

"We must not forget that this is not just about our health but about the entire community because if you bring back the virus, it can affect other people in Singapore."

Mers-COV, short for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, causes acute respiratory illness in infected patients. So far, no cases of Mers have been found here but Saudi Arabia has had 305 Mers cases and 61 deaths as of Wednesday.

Dr Yaacob said having Muslims leave for the umrah is "an area of concern" because 40 of the 48 suspected local cases of the virus were from pilgrims who went for the umrah. All tested negative.

Yesterday, the Association of Muslim Travel Agents of Singapore said it has not received any cancellation from pilgrims so far. It expects about 2,000 to 3,000 bookings for June, typically the peak period for pilgrims because of the school holidays. Some will also want to fast during Ramadan next month in the holy land.

"We've been through all kinds of sicknesses," said its honorary secretary Mohamed Roslan Jaafar, referring to the H1N1 and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crises when many Muslims carried on with pilgrimage plans.

"Everybody still wants to go. This is not a holiday, it is a spiritual journey."

Dr Yaacob encouraged these pilgrims to take the necessary precautions, as laid out in travel advisories issued by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and the Health Ministry, such as going for vaccinations and avoiding contact with camels.

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