Swine flu fears may result in fewer Dutch pilgrims

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Bookings to Mecca are down by 50 percent, says one travel agency in Rotterdam.

The Netherlands – Dutch Muslims planning to go on pilgrimage to Mecca this year are worried about the possibility of contracting swine flu, according to ANP reports.
Some travel agencies specialising in organising pilgrims to Mecca say local Muslims are wondering if it is wise to travel to the holy city in Saudi Arabia.

One Rotterdam travel agency says bookings to Mecca have dropped by 50 percent compared to 2008 but also acknowledges the recession as a possible contributing factor.

On Tuesday, the Egyptian government advised those who are elderly, ill, pregnant or very young not to go on pilgrimage this year. The announcement came after a 25-year-old Egyptian woman died from the A(H1N1) virus on Saturday after returning from Mecca.

On Wednesday, Arab health ministers agreed to ban people over the age of 65, people under the age of 12 and people with chronic illnesses from the pilgrimage to Mecca in an effort to contain the spread of swine flu.

As well as the annual hajj, which all Muslims are required to make once in a lifetime if they have the means, the faithful can also make a lesser pilgrimage to the holy places, known as umrah, at any time of the year.

Over two million people are expected in Saudi Arabia over the next five months on pilgrimages to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the west of the kingdom.

Radio Netherlands / AFP / Expatica

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