News story

Updated advice on MERS-CoV for pilgrims planning to travel to Umrah and Hajj

PHE and NaTHNaC advice pilgrims to postpone going for Hajj or Umrah if unwell, elderly or very young.


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has published general health advice and requirements for pilgrims planning to undertake the Umrah or Hajj this year. Public Health England (PHE) and the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) strongly urge all pilgrims planning to undertake these pilgrimages to refer to this updated advice in light of the on-going cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

As of 9 June 2014, the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia has reported 700 cases of MERS, including 287 deaths, occurring mainly among residents. The risk to most travellers is still considered to be very low. The World Health Organization (WHO) does not currently advise any travel restrictions to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in relation to MERS. The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health has advised elderly people, pregnant women, children, and those with chronic diseases, such as heart diseases, kidney diseases, respiratory diseases, nervous system disorders, diabetes, and immune deficiency to postpone the pilgrimage.

Dr Vanessa Field, joint director of NaTHNaC, said:

Our updated health information sheet for pilgrims includes information on health regulations, vaccine requirements, recommendations and general health advice for those planning to travel for the Hajj and Umrah. Pilgrims are strongly advised to follow our specific guidance about staying safe and healthy when travelling.

Professor Nick Phin, head of respiratory diseases at PHE said:

There is growing evidence of the possible role of camels in transmitting MERS-CoV to humans. We advise travellers, particularly those with underlying or chronic medical conditions, to avoid contact with camels in the Middle East and practise good hand and respiratory hygiene to reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses.

Pilgrims returning from Hajj and Umrah with flu-like symptoms including fever and cough, or shortness of breath within 14 days of being in the Middle East, should contact their GP without delay and inform them of their travel.

Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global health at PHE, said:

The Hajj is the largest annual international gathering with more than 2 million Muslims travelling from around the world to make the pilgrimage which also includes thousands from the UK. A large population confined to one area has historically increased the risk of infectious disease outbreaks, in particular respiratory infections, which is why it is important to get the relevant vaccinations and to get travel advice from your GP or travel health clinic.

MERS-CoV is a new type of coronavirus, first identified in a Middle Eastern citizen in 2012. Although cases continue to be reported from the Middle East, no new cases of MERS have been detected in the UK since the cases linked to the Middle East in February 2013.


Notes to editors

  • Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is estimated to fall during early October 2014. Umrah is a shorter, non-compulsory pilgrimage for Muslims that can be performed at any time
  • For the latest travel advice, please see the NaTHNaC website
  • General travel health advice for travellers to Saudi Arabia can be accessed from the NaTHNaC website
  • For more information about MERS-CoV please visit PHE’s dedicated webpages
  • The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) promotes standards in travel medicine, providing travel health information for health professionals and the public. NaTHNaC is commissioned by Public Health England.
  • Public Health England’s mission is to protect and improve the nation’s health and to address inequalities through working with national and local government, the NHS, industry and the voluntary and community sector. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health.

Infections press office

PHE press office, infections
61 Colindale Avenue

Published 12 June 2014