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EGYPT: Residents told to pray in open areas to avoid spreading flu

May 6, 2009 |  7:22 am

Swine flu and protests

Egypt's health minister has called on Muslims to refrain from going on pilgrimages for the next three weeks and to avoid closed mosques. A similar call was made to the Christian community, which was asked to hold services in open areas to help ward off the spread of the H1N1 flu virus to Egyptian territories, according to al-Masry al-Youm.

Health minister Hatem Gabaly made these calls at an extraordinary summit of Arab health ministers aimed at finding the most effective way to protect the Middle East against swine flu, said the report published in today’s issue of the independent daily.

Gabaly confirmed that no swine flu cases had been discovered in Egypt. 

Egypt first reacted to the threat of the new viral strain by ordering the slaughter of the nation's about 350,000 pigs -- a decision that elicited the fury of pig farmers. Earlier this week, farmers threw stones at police officers who were protecting government workers culling the animals. In some neighborhoods, the police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Egypt has destroyed almost 1,500 pigs so far. Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza reportedly warned that the government is contemplating “stricter” measures to counter farmers’ resistance and expedite the mass slaughter.

Despite assurances from some scientists that the virus is not as lethal as thought, many remain  on alert, fearing a pandemic. According to the World Health Organization, 22 countries have reported 1,516 cases of the H1N1 virus.

-- Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: Clashes between Egyptain youths and police over the mass killing of pigs in a Cairo neighborhood. Credit: Nasser Nasser / Newscom