WHO Emergency Committee Gathers to Discuss MERS Threat

Globally, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, has reached a total of 80, including 44 deaths. And while thousands of Muslims from around the world are now travelling to Saudi Arabia after the beginning of Ramadan, WHO Emergency Committee gathered to discuss the MERS coronavirus threat.

A panel of international experts from the World Health Organization is now meeting to review and discuss the current situation related to the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus. The first meeting of WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee was held on Tuesday in order to present all the latest information and provide an independent expert view. Apparently, the experts began urgent talks on the concern about the possible presence of large number of mild infections which generally go undetected, according to Reuters. The WHO and the United Nations are preparing for a possible outbreak in relation to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in October. After presenting all current data, experts have agreed that too many questions are still unanswered. Another meeting of the Committee, planned for the next week, on July 17, should decide whether the MERS virus poses a global threat and what measures should be taken to cope with it.

Most of the cases, 65 up to date, of MERS infection have been reported in Saudi Arabia, with several small hospital outbreaks and 39 deaths since 2012. The holy month of Ramadan began this week – a time not only of religious fasting, but also a time when thousands of people go to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia every year for Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage. Now the kingdom’s Ministry of Health faces a real threat – the crowds can easily spread the virus, as it is still unclear how exactly it is transmitted between individuals. During the H1N1 virus (commonly known as swine flu) outbreak in 2009 people were provided with face masks and hand sanitizers. This year, the government reduced the number of visas issued for pilgrims and repeatedly warned the population about MERS, advising them to postpone their travel.

However, Umrah is not so popular among believers, so Saudi Arabia officials said there is no need of panic, especially given the fact that MERS is not very contagious. In comparison, SARS, which wasn’t so deadly, managed to spread to nearly 40 countries within matter of weeks in 2003. The biggest concern for health experts both local and international remains the Hajj pilgrimage in October which traditionally brings millions of people to the Middle Eastern kingdom.

Among the experts in the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee is also Dr. Ziad Memish, Deputy Health Minister of Saudi Arabia.

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