MERS, a SARS-like novel coronavirus that emerged in
Saudi Arabia two years ago, has infected 244 people in the kingdom,
of whom 76 have died, the Health Ministry said on its website.
However, Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabia on Sunday told reporters
there was no scientific evidence yet to justify ordering additional
preventative measures such as travel restrictions.
He said he did not know why there had been a surge of cases in
Jeddah but said it might be part of a seasonal pattern since there
was also a big rise in infections last April and May.
Another cluster of cases has been detected in the United Arab
Emirates and a Malaysian who was recently in the Gulf has been
confirmed as infected, his country said.
MERS has no vaccine or anti-viral treatment, but international and
Saudi health authorities say the disease, which originated in
camels, does not transmit easily between people and may simply die
Health experts have warned, however, that MERS has the potential to
The number of officially confirmed Saudi cases has jumped suddenly
over the past two weeks.
Saudi authorities last week issued several statements aimed at
reassuring the public that there was no immediate cause for concern
at the latest outbreak and that it had not met international
definitions of an epidemic.
Rabia said the ministry had invited five European and North American
companies to work with it in developing a vaccine and that some of
the companies would soon visit the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is expected to receive a
surge of pilgrims in July during the faith's annual fasting month of
Ramadan, followed by millions more in early October for the Haj.
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Last week Malaysian health authorities said a Malaysian citizen had
been confirmed as having the disease after he returned from
pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
Rumors of unreported cases have circulated on Saudi social media
feeds in recent weeks. Last week, the kingdom's cabinet asked Saudi
news organizations to report only those cases that are officially
confirmed by the Health Ministry.
Most of the new infections are in Saudi Arabia's port city of
Jeddah, where 37 people have been infected since Monday, seven of
them fatally. Another 10 new cases, one of them fatal so far, were
discovered in the capital Riyadh. There were also new cases
confirmed in Najran Province and the city of Medina.
Last week, another cluster of cases was discovered in the
neighboring United Arab Emirates, and Yemen reported its first case.
Separately, the UAE state news agency WAM said late on Saturday that
it had recorded 12 new cases of coronavirus infections that were
discovered during "routine checks" on people who had come into
contact with infected individuals.
WAM quoted the health authority as saying that the patients were
being kept in hospital and "did not pose a danger to the public or
to patients". It expected the patients to be rid of the MERS virus
within 10 to 14 days.
(Editing by William Maclean and Jon Boyle)
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