Tunisia cancels haj pilgrimage due to swine flu

TUNIS, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Tunisia has called off the annual pilgrimage to Mecca for the first time because of a lack of swine flu vaccines, the government said on Tuesday.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs said a batch of H1N1 flu jabs would not arrive before mid-October, too late to ensure candidates for the pilgrimage, or haj, are vaccinated.

Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tunis said the haj would take place from around Nov. 18.

Millions of Muslims, including up to 10,000 Tunisians, flock to Mecca each year for the haj, a pillar of Islamic observance.

Saudi Arabia has urged the elderly and people with chronic diseases to postpone trips this year and several Muslim countries have sought to limit numbers.

The H1N1 virus had killed 3,917 people in 191 countries since being identified in April, according to World Health Organisation figures provided on Sept. 20.

No one has yet died from swine flu in Tunisia, which has documented 80 cases of the virus so far. (Reporting by Tarek Amara; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)