Camels are not only a beloved national symbol of Saudi Arabia, they are also a mainstay of the local economy (milk, meat, camel racing, camel rides for tourists, etc.), and their sacrifice (and the distribution of their meat to the poor) during the Hajj or Umrah plays an important part in their religion.
All of which has made the fact that camels are carriers of the MERS coronavirus, and are likely a source of human infection, difficult for many Saudis to accept.
Eight months after this camel-MERS connection first came to light (see Aug 2103 Lancet: Camels Found With Antibodies To MERS-CoV-Like Virus), there was still resistance from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture to admit any link (see 2014 Saudi MOA Spokesman: Camel Link Unproven, MERS-CoV Is MOH Problem and Saudi Health Minister denies relation between camels, Mers).
So deep was the denial that public `camel kissing’ briefly surged as an act of defiance.
The Lancet: Identification Of MERS Virus In Camels), in May of 2014 the Saudi Ministry Of Agriculture Issued Warnings On Camels, urging breeders and owners to limit their contact with camels, and to use PPEs (masks, gloves, protective clothing) when in close contact with their animals.
In the face of mounting evidence (see EID Journal: MERS Coronaviruses in Dromedary Camels, Egypt &
Compliance, however, has been spotty and camel products continue to be used by the public. And while most human MERS infection are due to human-to-human transmission, we continue to see suspected camel-to-human cases.
As mentioned above, camel sacrifice is a big part of the annual Hajj, and based on the small sampling of Youtube videos I’ve viewed of animal sacrifices during the Hajj (not for the squeamish), opportunities for transmission of blood-borne pathogens to the participants (who wear no protective gear) would seem to be fairly high.
As part of their Hajj, each pilgrim must participate in (often just pay for) the sacrifice of an animal; a sheep or goat can be sacrificed on behalf of only one person; whereas, a cow or camel can be shared by seven people. The cooked meat is then distributed to the poor.
Animals are sacrificed during Eid al Adha -- the feast of sacrifice -- which commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son. This year it will take place the last week of September.
The big story in the Arabic press overnight, however, indicates that things will be different this year. The Minister of Health yesterday announced – in response to the growing concerns of the Riyadh MERS outbreak - that camel sacrifice will not be allowed during the upcoming Hajj.
Riyadh / PNN- revealed Saudi Health Minister Khalid Al-Falih, the direction for dispensing camels in the pilgrimage this year and do not receive the slaughter Khda or sacrifice even infected with Corona does not occur, pointing out that there is coordination with Mecca Secretariat for concerted efforts to curb the spread of the virus through Hajj season.
The minister spoke of the utmost measures to contain the virus and prevent his release from Riyadh to ensure regular meetings and work awareness campaigns for pilgrims and conduct medical examinations and necessary immunizations to limit private spread arrivals from Riyadh, saying they are ready to deal with any emergency situation.
While the suspension of camel sacrifice during Eid al Adha due to MERS concerns has been discussed before, this appears to be the first time this practice will be prohibited.