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Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Turning back the pilgrims

There’s an almighty row in Egypt about the fact that the authorities want to ban people in certain age groups from going on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca for fear of bringing swine flu home.

“Hundreds staged a sit-in on Sunday when the Egyptian authorities implemented a plan to prevent anyone over 65 and under 25 from travelling to Mecca,” says WorldWide Religious News, citing the BBC.

“The people banned from leaving are those over 65 and those under 25 because they are the most at risk of being contaminated by swine flu,” an official is quoted as saying.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding was that these age groups were more likely to contract the illness. Could they not carry the H1N1 virus but simply not succumb, yet nonetheless bring it back to their home country? Should not all pilgrimages be stopped?

And why stop at pilgrimages? Shouldn’t all foreign travel be stopped on these grounds? People don’t travel to foreign lands and stay in the middle of a wilderness, on their own, remote from other people. They mix among many other people in holiday villages, cities, bars (well, maybe not bars in Mecca), festivals.

But the main Muslim pilgrimage – which this year takes place in November – is a huge one, so maybe they’re just doing a numbers game.

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