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Indonesia takes anti-Ebola precautions for haj pilgrims

Indonesia, which sends the largest group of Muslims each year on the annual haj pilgrimage, is taking precautions to ensure that its citizens going to Saudi Arabia will be safe from Ebola.

JAKARTA: Indonesia is taking precautions to ensure that its citizens going to Saudi Arabia for the haj will be safe from Ebola. The archipelago sends the largest group of Muslims each year on the annual pilgrimage.

The haj season has begun and hundreds of Muslims arrive at the Haj Dormitory in East Jakarta every day in preparation for their trip. For many, the pilgrimage to Mecca is a life-long dream and threats of catching the deadly Ebola virus have not dampened their spirits.

"Yes, there is some worry but we're steadfast in going on the haj. Even more so for those who have waited so long. Some had to be on a waiting list for seven years,” said H Muhammad Yusuf, a haj pilgrim. “Despite the threat, we'll leave it in God's hands."

Besides registering them, health officials also briefed pilgrims on how to stay healthy and maintain proper hygiene during their three-week-long trip to Saudi Arabia.

Although Saudi Arabia has banned pilgrims from Ebola-hit West African countries from attending this year's haj, Indonesian officials have advised haj travellers to take extra precautions, such as wearing facial masks most of the time and submitting health alert cards. With no Ebola virus vaccine available yet, health officials have also advised Indonesian pilgrims to avoid direct contact with sick pilgrims or items exposed to any form of bodily fluids including blood, vomit or saliva.

As is the practice every year, a team of government-approved medical professionals will accompany pilgrims and monitor their health throughout the trip. Immediate measures will also be taken if a pilgrim shows symptoms of Ebola on the flight home.

"We already suggested to all the pilgrims that after they return home from finishing the haj, for up to two weeks, they can report and should be monitored. And if they are having some kind of symptoms, it is free of charge and they can go to any type of health facility nearest to their place," said Deputy Health Minister Ali Ghufron Mukti.

Two weeks ago, an African national visiting Jakarta had displayed symptoms of the Ebola virus. Although it was a false alarm, the scare had prompted Indonesia officials to step up precautions around the country. 

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