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Egypt health minister issues travel warning as MERS toll rises in Saudi Arabia

More deaths are reported from SARS-like virus in Saudia Arabia, prompting pilgrimage warning from Egyptian health ministry
Egyptian medical workers wear masks as they leave the emergency section of King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, Saudi Arabia (AFP)

Egypt's Health Ministry on Wednesday advised people to delay pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia because of the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), commonly known as coronavirus.

A large number of pilgrims are expected to travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia during the fasting month of Ramadan in July. Millions more are expected in October for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

In a statement, the ministry urged people under 15, elders, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases to postpone their trips.

"This warning comes over the rising numbers of coronavirus infections in Saudi Arabia," the ministry said.

Egypt reported its first coronavirus case earlier this week, saying the disease was detected in an Egyptian engineer coming from Saudi Arabia.

Muslims can perform the minor pilgrimage at any time of the year, but the annual Hajj ritual is performed only once a year in the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. 

Deaths mount in Saudi

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday reported two more deaths from MERS.

In a statement, the Health Ministry said two men - one from Riyadh, the capital, and another from Tabuk - had died of the virus.

The new deaths brought to the total to 107 since the virus first struck the kingdom in September 2012. However 43 died in April alone.

Saudi Arabia also recently reported 16 new infections, bringing to 361 the total number of registered cases, including 199 last month.

Last week, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz removed Abdullah al-Rabeeah from his post as health minister due to the outbreak of the deadly virus in the kingdom.

Along with Saudi Arabia, the virus has been reported in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt and Oman.

Symptoms, which include persistent fever and cough, are similar to those associated with the SARS virus.

MERS, for which no known cure is available, destroys the lungs and kidneys.

It is presumed that long-term physical contact can lead to infection.