Tunisia suspends Hajj over swine flu fears
No Hajj for Tunisians due to H1N1 vaccine delay
Tunisia on Tuesday announced the suspension of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca because of the risk of the spread of swine flu and the impossibility of vaccinating candidates by mid-November.
Minister of Religious Affairs Boubaker Akhzouri announced that the hajj had been postponed in order "to preserve human life."
Vaccines ordered by Tunisia will not arrive until the end of October and Saudi Arabia has announced that it will only give hajj visas two weeks after the immunization of the would-be pilgrim, Akhzouri said.
This unprecedented decision affects about 10,000 Tunisians. The minister said that physical health was needed under Islam to undertake the hajj and he added that saving lives was "a founding precept" of the Muslim religion.
Ahkouri's announcement came a day after a senior Saudi health official said his country is ready to welcome some three million pilgrims during the annual hajj to Mecca amid the heightened alert on the swine flu pandemic.
Ziad bin Ahmed Memish of the health ministry said despite the level six alert on the A(H1N1) virus, "Saudi Arabia has decided to hold the great gatherings in Mecca and Medina," Islam's holiest sites.
He was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the east Mediterranean regional committee of the World Health Organization, being held in the Moroccan city of Fez through Thursday.
Memish pointed out that Saudi Arabia had been put to the swine flu test at the Umrah or minor pilgrimage during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in August-September.