Haj pilgrimage begins amid Mers fears

Haj pilgrimage begins amid Mers fears
Muslims circle the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque before Friday prayers in the holy city of Mecca March 30, 2012.

MECCA - Some two million pilgrims poured out of the Muslim holy city of Mecca yesterday to begin the annual haj, their numbers reduced due to fears of the deadly Mers virus.

Saudi Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabia told reporters on Saturday that the authorities had so far detected no cases among the pilgrims of the virus which has killed 60 people worldwide, 51 of them in Saudi Arabia.

The pilgrims moved from Mecca to nearby Mina by road, by train or on foot, the men wearing the seamless two-piece white garment that tradition requires, and the women covered up except for their faces and hands.

In Mina, they will pray and rest before moving on to Mount Arafat today for the climax of the pilgrimage rituals.

Saudi Arabia has mobilised huge medical and civil-defence resources to ensure the smooth movement of the pilgrims, around 1.4 million of whom come from abroad. That figure is sharply down on last year's 1.75 million, after a 20 per cent cut this year on the quota for pilgrims coming from abroad.

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