Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca undertaken by an estimated 2 million people annually. More than half of the pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia are foreign raising fears that Ebola may spread during the gathering. According to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia 2013 saw visitors from 188 countries entering the Kingdom.
The Kingdom has already announced that they would not be accepting VISA applications from the affected countries however applications from Nigeria and Senegal would still be accepted at this stage. The Governments of both Nigeria and Senegal have maintained their stance that Ebola is contained in their countries and that all infections have been isolated with surveillance of potential contacts being maintained.
It is not the first time that Saudi Arabia has had to deal with a potential outbreak during the pilgrimage. 2013 saw a sharp decline in the number of pilgrims amidst fears of a MERS outbreak. To date there have been 283 MERS related deaths in Saudi Arabia since the virus was first discovered in 2012. KSA officials have indicated that medical teams would be on high alert and actively monitoring for signs of the Ebola during the next few weeks.
The Sultan of Sokoto has confirmed that extensive medical checks would be compulsory for all attending pilgrims before they are allowed to embark on the journey. Screening processes at ports will also detect any symptomatic cases attempting to enter the Kingdom. This has not stopped concerned individuals from raising their concerns about 21 day incubation period and the potential for Hajj to become a catalyst in the global spread of Ebola.
The last known European outbreak of Smallpox occurred after a Pilgrim returned to Kosovo having visited Mecca and Iraq in 1972. The outbreak was quickly contained when the government declared martial law and enforced strict curfews. The population was vaccinated against small pox and by May of 1972 the outbreak had been contained with 175 reported infections and 35 deaths.
Governing and Medical authorities around the globe continue to track and monitor the situation and have to date not raised any concerns about the mass gathering.