Fri, Aug 21, 2015 - Page 7 News List

MERS cases soar in Saudi Arabia ahead of hajj pilgrimage

AFP, RIYADH

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus infections have soared in Saudi Arabia ahead of the hajj pilgrimage, killing three people and forcing a Riyadh hospital to close its emergency ward, officials and newspapers said yesterday.

The Saudi Gazette said authorities shut the emergency ward at one of the capital’s largest hospitals, King Abdulaziz Medical City (KAMC-R), “after at least 46 people, including hospital staff” contracted MERS.

The Saudi Ministry of Health has said it registered 21 confirmed MERS infections, all but one of them in Riyadh, between Aug. 9 and Saturday last week.

There was no immediate explanation for the difference in the figures, but the ward closure was confirmed by an employee.

The executive director of the hospital’s Infection Prevention and Control Department, Hanan Balkhi, confirmed in a statement on the facility’s Web site that there were MERS cases among health workers.

“In view of ... the increasing number of cases of MERS-coronavirus, and due to the around-the-clock large numbers of patients in the ER at KAMC-R and the difficulty of applying quarantine measures, preventive measures have been upgraded,” he said.

Saudi Minister of Health Khalid al-Falih late on Wednesday said that the hospital “has faced a spread of the coronavirus during the past few weeks, which started as one case.”

However, the cases were “still limited,” the official Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying.

The latest deaths occurred in Riyadh, and all three were Saudis aged between 65 and 86.

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