Similar to the rumors that spread during swine flu and bird flu alerts in the past, the rumor mills are actively promoting gossip and other unsubstantiated claims about a new respiratory virus to increase public apprehension and cause unnecessary panic.
As the Ministry of Health announced new deaths caused by the MERS coronavirus, public opinion remains divided.
Many are indifferent and believe the virus is nothing more than a passing storm while others have grown apprehensive of the disease.
Commercial centers and markets are reporting smaller numbers of shoppers in Al-Ahsa, the epicenter of the virus outbreak that has claimed 38 lives in the Kingdom.
Many who frequent public places have resorted to preventive measures such as wearing face masks, gloves and using alcohol-based hand sterilizers, according to Al-Hayat newspaper.
Local resident Ismael Mansour said he went shopping with his wife to a shopping center that is usually crowded with shoppers. He was surprised to see only a few shoppers, some of who were wearing face masks and gloves to protect themselves from possible infection.
“The coronavirus has resulted in panic among the public and shopping centers are providing hand sterilizers at entrances to concerned shoppers,” he said, adding that some of his friends who live outside Al-Ahsa have asked him about the seriousness of the situation.
Some of the popular rumors circulating on the virus include one which claims that the Ministry of Health has announced Al-Ahsa as an infected zone that no one is allowed to enter or leave.
Another rumor claims the virus is transmitted by the wind and the possibility of infection is very high.
A more recent rumor said an American doctor prepared a report cautioning the Ministry of Health on the spread of the coronavirus through unwashed dates.
The rumor went on to say that dates should be washed before they are consumed and that bats, suspected of transmitting the virus, have left their caves in the mountains and have inhibited Al-Ahsa farms.