Via Arab News: MERS contained, says Health Ministry official. Excerpt and then a comment:
A senior official from the Ministry of Health refuted rumors on Wednesday that new cases of coronavirus (MERS-CoV) had been identified in the Al-Kharj district, around 60 km from Riyadh. Abdullah Al-Aseeri, undersecretary in the Ministry of Health, told Arab News that social media outlets were spreading misleading rumors.
“There is no new case of the virus in the Al-Kharj district,” he said. “The situation is under control Kingdom-wide and the ministry has done its part to ensure the threat is contained,” he said.
There have been 163 cases of coronavirus since September of 2012, 64 of which were fatal. He also said the ministry has been implementing a system to monitor the mutation of the disease both within and outside the Kingdom.
“The scheme has operated with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global organizations that are involved in the fight against the disease,” he said. “There are no other cases of medical staff infected with the virus at the King Abdulaziz Hospital in Jeddah.”
The assurance came after a Saudi male nurse at the hospital, identified by local media on Sunday as 27-year-old Bandar bin Salim Al-Kuthairy, contracted the disease. Al-Kuthairy had reportedly gone to Madinah to get married and returned to work two days later with symptoms of the illness.
“All of the hospital’s staff members were tested for the virus and they proved negative,” Al-Aseeri said.
He also said extensive research and testing in regional laboratories have uncovered many cases of infection.
Around 15,000 tests have been conducted in regional laboratories in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Madinah. He said hospital laboratories have also uncovered many cases at the National Guard Hospital and Saudi Aramco’s medical facilities.
1. The groom sets off for Madinah in exuberant good health and returns two days later sick enough to show symptoms and be hospitalized. OK, this could happen; WHO says "median time from symptom onset to hospitalization" is 4.0 days, so he could have been exposed to something or someone shedding MERS viruses (hopefully not the bride), and come back to work already falling ill.
But as a Columbia English major over 50 years ago, I learned the dark art of close textual analysis, and I see here that Mr. Al-Aseeri has said, "There are no other cases of medical staff infected with the virus at the King Abdulaziz Hospital in Jeddah."
So Mr. Al-Aseeri and his bosses haven't exactly lied, but they have been giving us the truth in homeopathic doses.
2. What is this business of "many cases of infection" found in the National Guard Hospital and Saudi Aramco's medical facilities? Are they included in the KSA MOH tallies? And why mention them in the context of this one luckless nurse?
This is precisely the kind of mess you don't get into if you start with a policy of open, honest health communication.
The Saudis, citing privacy, have told their people and the rest of the world almost nothing about the MERS cases that keep popping up. When it's something as serious as a deadly new coronavirus, and it's associated with camels that play an important role in your culture, failing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is going to guarantee that your social media will explode with rumours and partially true reports.
Then, when you try to silence those rumours, you can't invoke a detailed, consistent narrative to back up your assertions. This confirms the world's suspicions that you're a straight-faced but incompetent liar; your own healthcare personnel have known that for years, but they don't count.
And no one in the global health community will call these guys out and demand some real facts about the extent of MERS in Saudi Arabia.