Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, is at high risk of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus spreading with at least 1 million of its citizens going to the Middle East for religious trips annually.
The Health Ministry general director for disease control and environmental health, Muhammad Subuh, said on Friday that Indonesia was prone to MERS virus outbreaks because of the high number of Indonesians traveling for hajj pilgrimage and umrah (minor pilgrimage) to Saudi Arabia, where the virus originated.
He said there were 250,000 hajj pilgrims and 750,000 religious travelers travelling to Saudi Arabia every year.
"There is no country as big as Indonesia, whose citizens go in huge number to a MERS-infected country for a long time," he said as quoted by kompas.com.
Hajj and minor pilgrimages require Muslims to stay in Saudi Arabia for at least two weeks.
In 2014, Subuh said two Indonesians were infected by MERS with one of them infected during an umrah trip. Both of them were hospitalised in Saudi Arabia and returned to Indonesia after they recovered.
The head of the Health Ministry’s research and development body, Tjandra Yoga Aditama, meanwhile, reminded travelers that MERS virus was still active in its point of origin.
He said there were three new MERS cases in Saudi Arabia, bringing the total to 1,038 people with 459 dead, 573 recovered and six were hospitalised.
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