First Guinean Hajj pilgrims to participate since Ebola outbreak

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(29 Aug 2016) LEAD IN:
Guineans are performing Hajj for the first time since the Ebola outbreak.
They were barred from making the pilgrimage for two years to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

Checking which flight they will get to Saudi Arabia, pilgrims from Guinea are preparing to begin their journey for the Hajj.
And this year is special – it’s the first time they have been able to make the pilgrimage since the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Guineans were barred from Hajj for the last two years to stop the spread of the virus which has killed more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since the 2013/2014 outbreak.
Guinea was declared Ebola-free in December 2015, although a small number of new cases were confirmed in March.
And 7,200 people from Guinea have registered to make this year’s pilgrimage.
“Ebola has caused trouble with Guineans, Liberians and Sierra Leoneans. We are going this time, praise to God Ebola is finished now,” says pilgrim Toure Sankounbaya.
Officials check piles of passports for the many people waiting at the registration centre.
They are due to fly to Jeddah on Turkish Airlines flights.
But while the Ebola crisis may have passed, the authorities are taking no chances when it comes to health.
“It is an obligation to take a vaccine and also to have a medical report from a qualified doctor that the pilgrim is in good health and can perform the Hajj without any impact,” says Conde Dunia, voyage manager.
“There are some pilgrims who are very old and tired, that is why the government has passed a law that no pilgrims will be allowed over 70 years of age.”
The Faysal Mosque in Conakry is being used as the registration centre for pilgrims.
They have each paid 39.9 million Guinean francs (4,400 US dollars) to make this holy journey.
Pilgrim Alpha Fadiaga says it is “one of the happiest days in my life”.
A tailor sews uniforms for the Guineans. It will make them easily identifiable and stop them getting lost among the 2 million Muslims who travel to Mecca every year for the ritual.
“Everybody took the vaccine for malaria and meningitis. Everybody has taken the vaccine and we are ready to go,” says El Aboubacar Fofana, Deputy National Director for Hajj.
Documents in order, the pilgrims board buses to the airport.
But not everything has gone smoothly this year.
While 2,000 Guineans have left for Saudi Arabia, more than 5,000 have been stranded in their homeland due to visa problems, according the the Secretary General of Guinean Muslim Affairs.
The government says it is working with the Saudis to resolve the situation.
But with time running out to get to Mecca for Hajj, pilgrims say they will protest if no progress has been made by Thursday.

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