Saudi health officials overseeing the Hajj pilgrimage say they are prepared to handle any outbreak of disease or a stampede like the one that killed hundreds of worshippers two years ago.
Two million pilgrims from around the world and inside Saudi Arabia have assembled in Makkah to perform their Hajj rituals beginning from Wednesday.
The deaths of hundreds during a massive crush at the Hajj in 2015 continues to loom over the occasion despite the success of 2016’s pilgrimage.
At least 800 died in the crush of people two years ago, according to official Saudi numbers.
“There is an integrated fleet of ambulances, each of which is considered its own fully equipped intensive-care unit. The ambulances circulates on the roads between the tents,” Hussein Ghanam, who oversees the health ministry’s Hajj operations, told Reuters. Some 30,000 health workers will be on hand, and 5,000 hospital beds are available.
The Saudi Red Crescent is providing further support, with 350 ambulances and four medevac helicopters made available to the Ministry of Health during the Hajj. New health centers have been opened and new simulations run to practice the emergency response.
The spread of disease at the Hajj is also a concern as hundreds of thousands from across the globe come into contact in such a short space of time. In 2013, one woman who had recently performed the Hajj contracted the deadly disease Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The World Health Organization said there were 26 newly reported cases of MERS in Saudi Arabia in July and early August, including six deaths.
There are also fears that cholera from neighboring Yemen, which is currently experiencing an epidemic of the water-borne disease, could spread during the Hajj.
Saudi authorities have already deployed 100,000 security forces to Mecca.