The world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims has in the past seen numerous deadly stampedes, fires and riots, with authorities having only limited ability to control the masses. Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites – Mecca and Medina – and organizing haj, a role that Iranian authorities have challenged as part of a dispute over the handling of a crush in 2015.
That incident killed nearly 800 pilgrims, according to Riyadh, although counts by countries of repatriated bodies showed over 2,000 people may have died, more than 400 of them Iranians. Hussein Ghanam, who oversees the health ministry’s haj operations, said the authorities are prepared in case of another stampede.
Ghanam said the ministry is also prepared to control communicable diseases like the potentially fatal Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus, which has been most prevalent in Saudi Arabia over the past five years.
Source Credit: Reuters