18 helicopters to ensure Hajj security

The helicopters will follow up the movement of pilgrims between Makkah and Madinah

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The aerial team of the General Security has already started implementing its plan for this year's Hajj season.

Maj. Gen. Mohammed Bin Eid Al-Harbe, commander of the team, said the plan envisages deployment of 18 helicopters to be stationed in Makkah and Madinah. These copters will make reconnaissance flights to monitor traffic movement and spot illegal pilgrims, he said.

"As many as 450 technical and administrative officers and privates will be involved in the execution of the plan," he added.

Al-Harbe said the helicopters will follow up the movement of pilgrims between Makkah and Madinah before and after the Haj.

"The helicopters are equipped with state-of-the-art tools for surveillance and close monitoring of security and traffic conditions," he said.

He said the helicopters are also manned with medical cadres to perform medical evacuations at times of emergency.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has set up a mobile medical team consisting of 106 doctors, nurses and technicians to monitor the health of the pilgrims.

Dr. Abdul Hafeez Turkistani, assistant director of Makkah Health Affairs, said the preventive team will visit the pilgrims at their accommodations to make sure that they are medically safe and not carrying any contagious diseases.

He recalled that the Kingdom had asked all countries to make sure that their pilgrims are vaccinated against infectious diseases at least 10 days before they start their Haj journey.

On the other hand, Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Saeed, advisor to the health minister, said the ministry had agreed with the Nigerian authorities to check the pilgrims for Ebola virus before they are allowed to board the plane.

He said even though 76,000 Nigerian pilgrims are coming from Ebola-free areas, they will be thoroughly checked for the deadly virus upon arrival in the Kingdom.

Dr. Hassan Al-Bishri, representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Kingdom, said Ebola does not pose any serious threat to the pilgrims because it exists mainly in three West African countries from where people have been barred from performing Haj.

"The virus does not spread by air, food or transport, but by excretions," he said.

Deputy Health Minister for Planning and Development, Dr. Mohammed Khushaim, said the number of quarantine rooms in the holy sites have been increased to treat all infectious diseases.

He said there are four hospitals in Mina and Arafat consisting of 5,000 beds, including 500-bed intensive care units.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Sept. 18, 2014.