RIYADH: King Abdullah was in the Saudi commercial hub of Jeddah on Thursday (Friday in Manila) in a bid to reassure a worried public as the death toll from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus hit 85.
The Red Sea city has seen a spate of cases among health staff in recent weeks that have sparked fears that the virus has mutated to make it more transmissible from person to person.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Wednesday that it had offered to send international experts to Saudi Arabia to investigate “any evolving risk” resulting from the apparent change in transmission pattern.
Public concern has been fueled by the reported resignation last week of at least four doctors at Jeddah’s King Fahd Hospital after they refused to treat MERS patients for fear of infection with the deadly coronavirus.
In its latest bulletin on Wednesday, the health ministry said that it had recorded a total of 287 cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in the kingdom so far, of whom a full 85 had died.
Despite the figures, the royal family insisted there was no cause for public alarm.
National Guard Minister Prince Mitab said his father King Abdullah was in Jeddah “to reassure the public and to prove that the exaggerated and false rumors about coronavirus are not true.”
“The MERS situation is reassuring and it has not reached the level of an epidemic,” he told students in Jeddah according to the Saudi Gazette.
But that did not stop the king from dismissing health minister Abdullah al-Rabiah on Monday without an official explanation.
Labor Minister Adel Fakieh, who has taken over as acting health minister, said on Twitter late on Tuesday that he had visited the King Fahd Hospital.
He promised “transparency and to promptly provide the media and society with the information needed.”