Travel Medicine and Infectious Diseases
Volume 34 March–April 2020
Research article Full text access
COVID-19 – the role of mass gatherings
Shahul H. Ebrahim, Ziad A. Memish
Mass gathering (MG) medicine emerged against the backdrop of the 2009 pandemic H1N1 Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) hosted the largest annual mass gathering of over 3 million pilgrims from 180 plus countries. However, the events surrounding the latest threat to global health, the PHEIC COVID-19, may be sufficient to highlight the role of mass gatherings, mass migration, and other forms of dense gatherings of people on the emergence, sustenance, and transmission of novel pathogens. The COVID-19 spread illustrates the role of MGs in exacerbation of the scope of pandemics. Cancellation or suspension of MGs would be critical to pandemic mitigation. It is unlikely that medical countermeasures are available during the early phase of pandemics. Therefore, mitigation of its impact, rather than containment and control becomes a priority during pandemics. As the most systematically studied MG-related respiratory disease data come from KSA, the cancellation of Umrah by the KSA authorities, prior to emergence of cases, provide the best opportunity to develop mathematical models to quantify event cancellations related mitigation of COVID-19 transmission in KSA and to the home countries of pilgrims. COVID-19 has already provided examples of both clearly planned event cancellations such as the Umrah suspension in KSA, and where outbreaks and events were continued.