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Mers not affecting pilgrimage plans

The Straits Times | Kash Cheong | Friday, Apr 25, 2014

SINGAPORE - The surge in Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) cases in Saudi Arabia has not deterred Singapore Muslims from performing the umrah, or minor pilgrimage, to Mecca.

"Bookings for trips are still coming in steadily," said Mr Mohamed Roslan Jaafar, honorary secretary of the Association of Muslim Travel Agents of Singapore (Amtas), which represents over 30 Muslim travel agents in Singapore.

"There have been no cancellations that we know of."

Umrah can be performed throughout the year except during the Haj or major pilgrimage period. But June is a popular period for umrah as parents in Singapore take advantage of the school holidays to take their children along.

However, Saudi Arabia, where the holy site of Mecca is located, recently saw a surge in Mers cases. In the last week alone, at least 66 cases of the disease were reported.

Mers has no vaccine or anti-viral treatment and can be fatal. But this has not put pilgrims off.

"These are spiritual trips. Muslims pray facing Mecca five times a day and some get to go on a pilgrimage only once. It's not a leisure trip that you simply cancel," said Mr Roslan.

Mers, discovered in September 2012, didn't stop pilgrims last year either, he added.

Madam Dilah Rahim, 48, is going on the umrah with her family despite her kidney disease. "For a Muslim, this is the best place to worship God. I want to go when I am still able and I have the money," said Madam Dilah, who booked her trip with local agency AQ Travel and Tours two months ago.

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