Kenyan Muslims who travel for the annual pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia this year could be quarantined on return for fear they may have been exposed to a deadly virus discovered there.
About 3,500 Kenyans have been granted visas to visit Mecca in Saudi Arabia where it is believed two people were infected with a virus that closely mimics the symptoms of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).
One of the patients has since died while the other is in critical condition. An outbreak of Sars in 2008 killed 800 people and infected 8,000 in Asia, America and Europe.
Director of Medical Services Francis Kimani said his ministry had not issued travel restrictions, but advised that it would be wise if individuals voluntarily cancelled their journey. The pilgrimage to Mecca is the fifth pillar of Islam.
“On the issue of quarantine, the decision cannot be made at this stage. The decision can only be reached once they travel and come back. For now, we are asking them to report to the department of communicable diseases for advice before embarking on the journey,” Dr Kimani added.
He said those travelling would be advised on what they need to do to avoid contracting the disease.
The Sunday Nation has independently established that the issue was discussed at a high-level security meeting and it was decided that Muslims be advised not travel, and those that do be quarantined for at least 21 days upon arrival.
Tests will be conducted to ensure that they did not contract the virus.
A confidential government report seen by the Sunday Nation read in part: “This follows the death of one Saudi national in Saudi Arabia and the admission of a Qatari national who had previously travelled to Saudi Arabia in an Intensive Care Unit in the United Kingdom.”
The first group of Kenyan pilgrims is expected to fly out on Monday. The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims secretary-general, Mr Adan Wachu, said they had not received any information that could interrupt the pilgrimage.
The World Health Organisation first issued an alert on the Sars-like virus after receiving information from the UK on September 22 that a man had been admitted in hospital with acute respiratory syndrome and that he had travelled to Saudi and Qatar.
The health organisation has not issued travel restrictions as a result of the findings, but said in a statement on its website that it is working with the Saudi Government to support the country’s health measures for all visitors participating in the haj to Mecca.