PHUKET: Phuket Governor Maitri Inthusut led an ensemble of local government officers on Saturday to wish Muslims from across Southern Thailand a safe journey as they boarded the first flight from Phuket to Saudi Arabia dedicated to pilgrims performing the Hajj.
The 301 Muslims gathered at Phuket International Airport had arrived from Songkhla, Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces in Thailand’s restive Deep South.
The first Hajj flight, an Emirates Airline service departing just after midnight Saturday night, took on board 92 pilgrims.
A Malaysia Airline flight followed at 6:15am Sunday with 75 pilgrims on board, followed by another Malaysia Airline flight at 10:25am with 27 pilgrims on board.
A Qatar Airways flight departed at 5:35pm yesterday with 32 pilgrims on board.
“We want to make them feel at ease before performing the Hajj,” Governor Maitri said.
This year, about 13,000 Thai Muslims will be performing the Hajj under the government-sponsored travel packages.
Meanwhile, Thai Health officials have expressed concern over pilgrims visiting the Islamic homeland amid the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus (story here
The precautions taken in Thailand earlier this year came ahead of the health authorities in Saudi Arabia yesterday reporting the 45th death from MERS in the country, where MERS emerged last year.
The Saudi Health Ministry yesterday also reported that three women aged between 64 and 75 had contracted the disease.
Meanwhile, health officials in Qatar, which shares a border with Saudi Arabia, yesterday also reported another death from MERS, which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia.
The victim was 29 years old.
The World Health Organization last month reported the number of confirmed MERS infections worldwide in the past year at 102, of whom almost half have died.
The virus has been reported in people in Tunisia, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
One of the two MERS patients in France died, as did two of the patients in the UK.