Top 5 travel tips for Hajj pilgrims
Here are the top health and safety tips for those travelling to Saudi Arabia to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage this month.
Close to two million foreign and domestic pilgrims are expected to perform their religious duties in Mecca between August 30 and September 4, with many also travelling to Medina in the weeks before and after the pilgrimage.
Hundreds of thousands of travellers have already arrived in Saudi Arabia and local authorities and transportation hubs have been preparing for the busy period ahead.
All members heading to Saudi Arabia, whether for Hajj, business or personal travel, should expect generalised travel disruption throughout the country.
James Bird, Regional Security Manager at International SOS and Control Risks in Dubai, reminds those familiar with travel to Saudi Arabia that this will be an unusually busy period with potential travel delay.
“We advise them to anticipate heightened security at transport hubs and increased congestion on certain overland travel routes,” he says.
Bird, however, wants to reassure first-time travellers that the local authorities are very well prepared to manage the influx of pilgrims – mainly through the designated Hajj terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED).
He also urges pilgrims to always comply with legal, religious and cultural conventions throughout their time in the Kingdom.
1. Accommodation and travel arrangements
Travellers should reconfirm their appointments, accommodation and travel arrangements during the busy Hajj and Eid Al Adha period to minimise any inconvenience due to increased demand. The official Eid Al Adha holiday is expected to take place between August 31 and September 3, during which government offices, banks and other businesses will be closed.
2. Comply with government rules
Pilgrims are advised to comply with the latest requirements issued by the government, namely through the Ministry of Hajj and Umra and the Saudi Ministry of Health, and to remain abreast of the latest news and recommendations.
3. Get vaccinations
“Medical advice is largely the same from year to year, starting with a health consultation prior to travel, in case any vaccines, boosters, or – depending on your itinerary – anti-malarial pills are required,” says Dr Issam Badaoui, Medical Director of Assistance at International SOS in Dubai.
Saudi Arabia requires all pilgrims to present proof of the quadrivalent meningitis vaccination, and those from exposed countries to show proof of yellow fever and polio vaccinations. Saudi Arabian officials also recommend that travellers get a seasonal flu vaccination and ensure all other routine vaccinations are up to date before travelling for Hajj.
4. MERS-CoV warning
There have also been some recent cases of viral respiratory disease, MERS-CoV, in the region. While the risk of contracting MERS-CoV is low, pilgrims are reminded to seek medical attention if they develop moderate to severe respiratory issues within two weeks of leaving the Kingdom, preferably by contacting medical institutions before visiting them in person.
“With such a large number of worshippers hailing from all over the world to one place, wellness guidelines are also very important to protect against any risk of illness,” says Dr Badaoui.
5. Personal hygiene
To avoid the spread of bacteria or infections, pilgrims are advised to keep some distance from sick people and maintain a high degree of personal hygiene.
Remember to choose clean, well-cooked food and safe beverages, including bottled water and pasteurised milk. Also, take measures to stay hydrated and cool to avoid heat-related illnesses.
Pilgrims are advised to avoid contact with animals, especially camels and their products, and to protect against mosquito bites by using effective repellent and wearing protective clothing whenever possible.