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World Briefing / Tunisia

Citizens barred from making hajj

October 07, 2009|Times Wire Reports

Tunisia has barred its citizens from making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca for the first time because of a lack of flu vaccines, the government said.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs said a batch of H1N1 flu vaccine would not arrive before mid-October, too late to ensure that candidates for the pilgrimage, or hajj, are vaccinated.

Saudi Arabia's Embassy in Tunis said the hajj will take place in November.

Millions of Muslims, including as many as 10,000 Tunisians, flock to Mecca each year for the pilgrimage, a pillar of Islamic observance. Saudi Arabia has urged the elderly and people with chronic diseases to not make the trip this year.

Several Muslim countries have sought to limit the number of citizens traveling to Mecca, but Tunisia is the first to formally cancel the pilgrimage.

Businesses in Islam's holiest city are already counting the losses, with shops, hotels and tour operators reporting a marked decline in visitors.

The H1N1 virus had killed 3,917 people in 191 countries since being identified in April, according to World Health Organization figures provided on Sept. 20.

There have been no deaths related to swine flu in Tunisia, which has documented 80 cases of the virus so far.

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