The Hajj pilgrimage, scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia from 26 June to 1 July, is anticipated to draw two million participants including over 31,000 Malaysians. It is expected that the number of pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia will reach its pre-pandemic levels as restrictions on age and travel are lifted. The number of flights from Malaysia has been increased from 49 to 70 per week according to media reports2. Saudi Arabia has established operational procedures to handle the increased number of travellers entering the Kingdom. As this year’s Hajj season occurs during the summer, pilgrims can expect to deal with the high summer temperatures and humidity. Therefore, International SOS recommends that organisations encourage their workforce to take the relevant precautions in order to have a safe and healthy Hajj.
Dr Marie Louise Van-Eck, Regional Medical Director at International SOS in Dubai, advises: “Our bodies are naturally designed to maintain a constant temperature of around 37°C (98.6°F). The body automatically balances heat gain and loss; however, if it is unable to effectively cool down, the inner “core” temperature can rise to dangerous levels. This leads to the breakdown of bodily systems. Anyone can be overcome by heat, even people who are fit and healthy. Certain individuals are at higher risk than others, such as young children/babies, pregnant/nursing mothers, the elderly and those with medical conditions, so keeping a close eye on these individuals is important.
The great news is that we can prevent heat-related illnesses. To combat the challenges of extreme heat during the hot season, it is important for pilgrims to maintain proper hydration by drinking plenty of water. It is advisable to avoid excessive consumption of caffeine and sugary drinks as they contribute to dehydration. Wearing suitable attire, such as loose-fitting, lightweight, and preferably light-coloured clothing enables the body to breathe and stay cool. Pilgrims should not forget to protect their head and face with a hat or an umbrella and reapply sunscreen frequently. It is advised to take regular breaks to rest in cool shaded areas and avoid direct exposure to the sun, especially during peak hours between 10 AM- 4 PM. Pilgrims should remember to listen to their bodies and to not overexert themselves. Lastly, it is essential for pilgrims to comply with all health regulations and be mindful of prevalent diseases, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), by practising good hygiene.”
Gulnaz Ukassova, Security Director at International SOS in Dubai, said: “Pilgrims undertaking Hajj should closely follow government directives and ensure they have obtained the correct approvals prior to departure. Utilise the services of a government-approved and trusted pilgrimage organiser that has the appropriate arrangements in place. Additionally, it is crucial for pilgrims to be aware of the challenges posed by being in crowded places during the Hajj and take necessary precautions to ensure their safety and wellbeing.
Travellers visiting Saudi Arabia during this period and who are not participating in Hajj should be mindful of heightened cultural and religious sensitivities. Visitors should ensure adherence to all local legal, religious and cultural norms, comply with instructions issued by the authorities at all times and exercise caution in crowded areas. Visitors should also anticipate potential travel disruption, as well as increased demand for transport and accommodation during this period. Travellers should reconfirm their bookings and travel arrangements and allow additional time for journeys, especially if using King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) in Jeddah (Mecca), where most pilgrims arrive.”