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Ebola Virus: Saudi Issues Travel Warning

Saudi Arabia has advised the kingdom’s citizens and residents to avoid all travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea until further notice due to the Ebola outbreak.

The warning issued late Wednesday by the Ministry of Health comes after a Saudi man, who recently visited Sierra Leone and was suspected of having the virus, died earlier in the day when his heart stopped and attempts to resuscitate him failed.

The ministry is yet to confirm if he was infected as they wait for results of the patient’s samples tests to return from specialized labs in the U.S. and Germany. Health officials are currently monitoring the people he came into contact with him for any symptoms, the ministry said.

The Ebola outbreak is a source of concern for the kingdom as it prepares to receive millions of Muslim pilgrims in the coming weeks for the major Hajj pilgrimage.

Saudi Arabia has been battling the spread of another deadly virus in recent months. The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, has claimed the lives of 298 people in the country since the disease was first detected in September 2012.

However, the World Health Organization didn’t recommend applying any travel or trade restrictions to deal with MERS at the time and the number of reported cases and deaths of the disease has dropped in recent weeks. Saudi Arabia has not reported any new cases of MERS since July 11.

The WHO has not called for travel restrictions due to Ebola, but the spread of the virus pushed the Saudi government in April to announce that it had stopped issuing pilgrimage visas for travelers from these three West African countries.

The Saudi Ministry of Health said it is “educating its employees who work in the kingdom’s airport and seaports about the standards of infection control and how to deal with these cases” but didn’t elaborate on what other measures are being taken.

Dubai-based Emirates Airlines earlier this week became the first major international carrier to suspend service to Guinea due to the outbreak.

“The safety of our passengers and crew is of the highest priority and will not be compromised,” Emirates said in a statement.

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(via WSJ Blogs)