By Maryam Garba Hassan with agency report
Saudi Arabia has no plan to ban some 70,000 Nigerian pilgrims from performing this year’s Hajj exercise due to Ebola concerns, a senior Saudi health official said.
The country, which has barred pilgrims from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea from the Hajj exercise, yesterday announced that it will allow Nigerians to attend, suggesting the smaller outbreak there was less worrying.
The Arab News daily newspaper quoted Mohammed Al-Khasheem, deputy health minister for planning and development, as saying there was no need to worry about Nigerians coming on pilgrimage.
“We have not stopped issuing Hajj visas to Nigerians and we know that about 70,000 pilgrims come from the African country every year,” he was quoted as saying.
“The WHO knows the situation in Mina and Arafat during the hajj season and there is no need to worry about a few Ebola cases that have occurred in Nigeria,” he said, referring to holy hajj sites in Saudi Arabia.
“We have taken precautionary measures to prevent an Ebola outbreak in the Kingdom during the Hajj season,” said Al-Khasheem. “We have made early preparations for the annual pilgrimage,” he added.
Al-Khasheem said his ministry would focus on pilgrims arriving through 16 entry points, including King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, the main gateway for pilgrims, and Prince Mohammed Airport in Madinah.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been worst hit by an outbreak of the disease in West Africa, with a combined death toll in those three countries since March of 2,097, as at Sept. 5, the (WHO) says.
Guinea reported 510 cases and 377 deaths, while Sierra Leone reported 670 cases and 355 deaths and Liberia 670 cases and 355 deaths. Nigeria does not share a border with any of the most endemic West African countries.
Saudi Arabia said in April it would not issue visas for the 2014 Hajj to pilgrims from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea due to the Ebola outbreak in those countries.
Meanwhile, Max Air Limited, yesterday said that it had so far transported more than 3, 000 of the 40, 486 intending pilgrims allocated to it for this year’s Hajj.
The Public Relations Manager of the airline, Alhaji Ibrahim Dahiru, made this known in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Kano.
He explained that the pilgrims transported to the holy land were from Jigawa and Lagos states.
“We have made three trips each from Jigawa and Lagos since the commencement of the airlift on Saturday.’’
According to him, the airline is set to make its seventh and eighth flights from Lagos and Jigawa on Monday (today).
“We will also commenced the airlift of intending pilgrims from Katsina and Kano hopefully on Monday and Wednesday respectively.’’
Dahiru said the Airline would use five Boeing 747 aircraft with one on standby during the entire Hajj operation.
“With the five aircraft and one on standby, we will complete the airlift of our pilgrims within two weeks, if things go well’’, he said.
He explained that the airline would transport intending pilgrims from 15 states including Kano, Katsina Jigawa and Yobe.
Others are Borno, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Bauchi, Rivers, Lagos, Gombe, Taraba and Imo.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the transportation of intending pilgrims for this year’s Hajj commenced from Dutse International Airport on Saturday with 3,000 initially airlifted