Via the Saudi Gazette, some reports that indirectly convey a great deal. Here's the first: ‘No cause for panic’ — Experts, teachers dispel fears of MERS outbreak. Excerpt:
A number of experts and schoolteachers have been trying to dispel fears about the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which they said has been blown out of proportion by rumors and social networking sites.
They said Saudi society has successfully dealt with diseases and epidemics in the past and MERS can be confined to hospitals only if rumors were avoided and proper procedures implemented by concerned bodies.
Abdullah Al-Qarni, a schoolteacher, said MERS has resulted in a limited number of deaths while many patients fully recovered from the viral disease.
“There are around 2 million students of both genders in Saudi schools and education officials are keen to maintain the safety of students. The Health Department at the Ministry of Education should play a great role in educating students and parents on how to avoid the disease," he said.
Fellow teacher Yahya Al-Zahrani accused users of social networking sites and the media of creating unnecessary panic. He, however, said a lack of transparency by the Ministry of Health contributed to fueling rumors.
"The actual situation in schools is comforting and there is no need to panic. I can assure the public that there has not been a single case of the disease among students and no student has been absent because of fears of catching the disease," he said.
Al-Zahrani said the Ministry of Education should distribute brochures explaining the preventive measures students and parents can take to avoid contracting the disease.
"The number of deaths from traffic accidents is much greater than the actual deaths from the disease and there is no need for panic," he added.
When you've got to reassure the public by citing Saudi traffic fatalities (among the world's worst), you're grasping at straws.
Now consider an April 20 report: School fires 6 teachers for speaking to media—not about MERS, just a complaint about their salaries. As the old Chinese adage puts it, "Kill the chicken to scare the monkeys."
Meanwhile, we also learn that Shortage of public health specialists raises concern in MOH-run hospitals.
These stories fit together like Lego blocks: a health ministry that can't staff its own hospitals in the midst of a politically damaging disease outbreak; a dismal failure of a health-communications strategy; intimidation of teachers who might otherwise blow the whistle on the MERS threat to them and their students.
No wonder Dr. Al-Rabiah got sacked (see below). The question now is whether the labour minister can handle MERS off the side of his desk. Saudi labour relations are not among the happiest in the world's nations, but perhaps Mr. Faqih will surprise us all.