UK
23/07/2013 18:08 BST | Updated 23/07/2013 18:10 BST

Muslims Told To Stay Away From Mecca Because Of Virus

Health officials have advised elderly Muslims not to take part in the annual pilgrimage to Mecca because of the new Sars-like virus.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 12 or people who suffer from chronic illnesses should also abstain from performing the Hajj later this year.

mecca pilgrimage

The Hajj is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world

The Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia said the groups should not participate "for their own safety".

The virus, known as Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), has killed half of the people known to be infected.

In May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that MERS-CoV is a ''threat to the entire world'', saying that the disease is ''emerging faster than our understanding''.

Latest data from the WHO shows there have been 90 laboratory-confirmed cases including 45 deaths.

Three people have died in the UK as a result of the infection - including one man who died at the end of June.

The Qatari man was being treated in an intensive care unit at St Thomas' Hospital in central London. Hospital officials said that the man, who was 49 when he was admitted, died after his condition deteriorated.

An update on the Saudi Ministry of Health website advises the groups of vulnerable people to postpone performing the Hajj this year.

It also advises other pilgrims to comply with public health guidance including wearing masks in crowded places.

The Hajj is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world. All Muslims strive to carry out the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.

It is understood up to 25,000 British Muslims will be undertaking the sacred journey this year.

British health officials have been advised to be vigilant for severe unexplained respiratory illness in anyone who has recently travelled in the Middle East, as well as any unexplained clusters of such illness.

Coronaviruses cause most common colds but can also cause Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome). In 2003, hundreds of people died after a Sars outbreak in Asia.