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Islamic Pilgrims Begin Annual Hajj Amid Virus Fears

Pilgrims performed evening prayers in Mecca's Grand Mosque on October 8, as more than 2 million Muslims converged on the holy city for the annual hajj pilgrimage.
Some 2 million Islamic pilgrims are beginning the hajj in Saudi Arabia amid concerns caused by the deadly MERS virus.

The pilgrims on October 13 moved from the holy city of Mecca to nearby Mina by road, train, or on foot.

In Mina, pilgrims will pray and rest before moving on to Mount Arafat on October 14 for the culmination of the pilgrimage rituals, which are held annually and are a religioius duty for any capable Muslim at least once in their life.

Saudi Arabia accounts for the overwhelming majority of MERS deaths reported around the world -- 51 out of 60 -- and there have been concerns that pilgrims could spread the virus upon return to their homelands.

Riyadh curbed quotas on the maximum number of foreigners that would be allowed into the country for this year's hajj.

MERS is considered a deadlier but less transmissible form of the SARS virus that killed several hundred people in Asia in 2003.

Saudi authorities have mobilized huge medical and civil-defense resources for the event.

Based on reporting by AFP