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Manila urges Muslims to delay Hajj due to MERS

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine health authorities are urging Muslim Filipinos to postpone their pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia due to worries about the Middle East respiratory syndrome virus.

The World Health Organization has recorded 824 confirmed MERS cases globally as of July 2, including at least 286 related deaths. Most cases have occurred in Saudi Arabia, and the virus is believed primarily acquired through contact with camels.

Philippine officials said Thursday there is no ban, but pilgrims are required to take a physical exam and get a medical certificate showing they are fit.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona says "high-risk groups" like the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic diseases are especially urged to not make the trip.

About 6,500 Filipinos are expected to join the October pilgrimage.

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