Saudi Arabia withholds visas from the three countries worst hit by the Ebola virus.
Officials in Jeddah say they have reinforced precautionary measures against Ebola at air, sea and land borders after a Saudi man, who was hospitalized for suspected Ebola infection, died on Wednesday.
The man, in his 40s, recently returned to Jeddah from a business trip to Sierra Leone, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday. He was admitted to hospital on Monday after he showed symptoms of the Ebola virus infection.
His death marks the first reported casualty of the Ebola epidemic in the Arab world and comes as an emergency World Health Organization summit was being held in Geneva to discuss measures to tackle the epidemic.
Khaled Obaid Baqwakid, the Jeddah Health Affairs assistant director, said the measures so far taken by the Kingdom are enough to prevent any cases of Ebola entering the country.
Also, the Saudi Arabian authority has suspended 7,200 Hajj visas for pilgrims from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia because of the Ebola virus. The Saudi charge d’affaires in the Guinean capital, Mohammed Al-Hamoud, said the decision was taken about three months ago.
According to Mr. Hamoud, “this was a precautionary measure the Saudi Embassy in Conakry has taken to prevent the possible spread of the deadly virus among other pilgrims,” the al-Arabiya news organisation said.
According to al-Arabiya news, the governments of the three West African countries have accepted the decision “with grace”.
Mr. Hamoud said the decision would remain in place despite the measures taken by the Guinean government over the two past weeks to ensure its pilgrims were free of the infection.
“The present condition regarding the spread of the virus necessitates the cessation of Hajj visa issuance for the citizens of the three African countries,” he said.
The charge d’affaires said the embassy started its negotiations with the three countries on the possible suspension of the Hajj visas because of the Ebola virus outbreak about four months ago.
“The embassy hinted to them at the time that Hajj visas might not be issued to their citizens,” Mr. Hamoud said.
He said the former Saudi ambassador to Guinea, Amjad Bidaiwi, had made it very clear to the three governments that the suspension of the visas would only be lifted if an official document from the World Health Organization approving the travel of their pilgrims to the Kingdom was issued.
Mr. Hamoud said most of the negotiations were done with Guinea because it has the largest number of pilgrims of about 7,000.
“The pilgrims from Sierra Leone and Liberia are around 400 in total,” he added.