Ahead of Haj, two Saudis die of MERS virus
Muslim pilgrims arrive to perform the afternoon prayer in Mecca's Grand Mosque. (Image credit: AFP)
Arab News and AFP have reported that two more Saudis have died of the MERS coronavirus, raising death toll from the respiratory disease in the Kingdom to 51, the Ministry of Health said on Thursday.
The latest fatalities, both men aged 78 and 55, were suffering from other chronic diseases, the ministry said on its website.
The report did not specify when the deaths occurred, saying only that both were from Riyadh.
Two more infections were also reported, bringing to 119 the number of people infected in the kingdom, the ministry said.
Worldwide, MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, has so far claimed 58 lives since it was first discovered by scientists in September last year. The other deaths were reported in Tunisia, France, Britain, France and Jordan.
Experts are struggling to understand MERS, for which there is no vaccine. It has also caused worries as Saudi Arabia prepares to host some two million Muslim pilgrims for the annual Haj, which begins on Sunday.
Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabeea, however, noted that authorities have not yet recorded any MERS cases among pilgrims arriving from all over the world.
“So far, no case of any epidemic has been recorded among the pilgrims, especially the coronavirus,” he said.
Health authorities in Makkah, where the pilgrims will be concentrated, have expressed optimism that the Haj will pass off without any outbreak, given that Muslims also go on lower-level pilgrimages throughout the year and there has been no mass spread of MERS. As part of precautionary measures, authorities have urged the elderly and chronically ill to avoid the Haj and for pilgrims to wear face masks.
MERS is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died, and sowed economic chaos.
Like SARS, MERS is believed to have jumped from animals to humans. It shares the former’s flu-like symptoms, but differs by also causing kidney failure.
Earlier today, Saudi authorities claimed that the kingdom was free of MERS.