On Friday, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced four more cases of the new coronavirus infection, now known as Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). This Sunday, another four cases were confirmed in the kingdom. As the annual season of the Hajj pilgrimage approaches in October, the concerns of health experts about a possible outbreak grow.
Saudi Arabia expects more than 3 million pilgrims from all across the globe for October’s Hajj. The country’s Ministry of Health has advised people, especially children, older people or those with chronic diseases to postpone their travel. The World Health Organization also recommended measures for limiting the spread of the infection. However, it is obvious that people in the country are not really worried about the deadly disease. There are no public health advisory notes or warnings at Riyadh’s airport, for instance – if you happen to land there, you won’t know how to protect yourself. You won’t even know what MERS coronavirus is, admit commentators. Although the kingdom’s authorities are saying they have taken all possible measures for infection prevention and control, there are no face masks for travelers entering the country.
Of course, this is most probably because the WHO hasn’t advised special screenings at entry points or any travel restrictions. International health experts and WHO’s Emergency Committee who met in July, decided that so far, MERS didn’t represent a public health emergency. At the same time, the Saudi Ministry of Health, dedicated an entire section of its official website to briefing on the virus. According to Deputy Health Minister, Ziad Memish, MERS is not SARS. It may be highly deadly, but it is less contagious and adapted to spread among people.
As of yesterday, the number of the globally laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS infection is 114, including 54 deaths. Of them, 87 cases and 45 deaths have been identified in Saudi Arabia. According to the Saudi Health Ministry, the last two victims of the infection are a 74-year-old man from Medinah, Saudi Arabia and a 29-year-old Qatari man. In July, WHO issued guidelines which recommended that health advisories should be made available to the public at places such as airports, planes, ships and so on. So far, there are no radio or TV announcements, banners or flyers warning the travelers about the current situation in Saudi Arabia.