DAMMAM – Flights to the Kingdom from countries affected by the swine flu have been halted, a senior airport official said Wednesday as the World Health Organization raised the global flu alert level to 5, the second highest phase that indicates “a pandemic is imminent.”
Khaled Al-Medhel, Director General of King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh, said the incoming flights have been halted as a precautionary measure.
He said flights to King Fahd Airport in Dammam have also been stopped, noting that strenuous efforts are under way for preventive measures to minimize the risk of the deadly virus that has killed 159 people in Mexico and, on Wednesday, a 23-month-old baby in the United States.
On Tuesday, the Airlines Operators Committee (AOC), of which 30 international airlines are members, appealed for medical screening of passengers arriving at Saudi airports
Nine countries are known to be affected since the outbreak of the A/H1N1 swine flu was first revealed last week in Mexico. In addition to Mexico and the US, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, Britain, Israel, Austria and Germany have reported infections. Cuba has banned flights to and from Mexico, Argentina has suspended flights from Mexico and the US, European Union and other countries have discouraged nonessential travel there.
Al-Medhel said airport officials and the Ministry of Health will meet next week to work out a joint mechanism for preventive action.
The new strain contains DNA from avian, swine and human viruses and appears to have evolved the ability to pass easily from one person to another, unlike most swine H1N1 viruses.
It cannot be caught from eating pig meat products but Egypt ordered all its pigs to be slaughtered and some countries, led by Russia and China, have banned US pork imports.
Saad Bin Muhammed Al-Meqbl, Director of the Agriculture Ministry’s branch in the Eastern Province, said inspectors make surprise visits to farms and, so far, there has been not a single report of breeding of pigs in farms in the region.
Customs authorities at King Fahd Causeway had foiled an attempt for smuggling 25 kg of pork into the Kingdom on Feb. 5, 2009, a source said. – Okaz/ SG