Saudi Arabia bans Ebola-stricken countries from hajj pilgrimage

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MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA -  SEPTEMBER 30: Muslim pilgrims from all around the world circle counterclockwise Islam's holiest shrine, the Kaaba, ahead of upcoming Eid Al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) at Masjid al-Haram (the Grand Mosque) in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia on September 30, 2014. (Photo by Dilek Mermer/ Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Muslim pilgrims from all around the world circle counterclockwise Islam’s holiest shrine, the Kaaba, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia on September 30, 2014. Saudi Arabia, however, banned pilgrims from Ebola-stricken countries from entering the country. Photo by Dilek Mermer/ Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

With the arrival of approximately two million people from around the world in Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj pilgrimage, there are a group of pilgrims who were not welcomed.

The Saudi government has banned the entry of travelers from three countries currently dealing with the Ebola epidemic: Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The decision to reject visa requests from these countries has affected 7,400 people, according to the Associated Press.

Hospitals in Saudi Arabia are also preparing in the event of an outbreak by setting up isolation and surgery units as well as dispatching medical staff to airports.

Despite banning pilgrim seekers from West Africa, Saudi officials are granting visas to pilgrims travelling from Nigeria. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz International Airport has provided them with two exclusive lounges as a precaution.

“So far 118,000 pilgrims have arrived by air from Nigeria. There was not a single suspected case of the deadly virus among anyone of them,” said Abdul Ghani Al-Malki, supervisor of hajj affairs at the airport.

Saudi officials have also been closely monitoring incoming flights from Kenya, Congo and other countries with reported cases of Ebola. Al-Malki told the local Saudi Gazette that airport’s health inspection center ensured that planes and their passengers were not only free of Ebola, but other contagious diseases as well. “We have double-checked the papers that prove the airplanes had been sprayed twice before taking off to their destinations.”

The current death toll from Ebola in West Africa rose to 3,338, according to the World Health Organization report released Wednesday.

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