Via Arab News, an April 10 report: MERS kills Riyadh woman; minister allays public fears. Excerpt and then a comment:
The coronavirus is well under control, Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said on Wednesday at a time when Jeddah reported 11 new cases of the deadly virus, of which two were fatal.
Four patients, aged 45, 51, 57 and 90, were diagnosed with the virus in Riyadh. One of them, a woman, died on Wednesday.
The 57-year-old Saudi patient who succumbed to the virus was suffering from chronic diseases, while the other three patients are being treated at the intensive care unit of a local hospital.
“Six patients in Jeddah have been cured and three cases are still under medication,” he said.
Al-Rabeeah urged community members not to panic, playing down rumors about the spread of the virus in the Kingdom on social media sites.
The National Scientific Committee for Infectious Diseases will meet on Thursday to review the status of the disease and take decisions about how to combat its spread.
“We assure citizens and residents that precautionary measures have been taken by the ministry,” Al-Rabeeah said. The disease has not reached epidemic proportions based on guidelines set by the WHO, he said.
“The incidence of the disease is therefore very low compared to the population of the Kingdom,” the minister said. “Furthermore, the number of cases in Jeddah is proportionate to other regions of the Kingdom.”
“We are updating the ministry website with news about the virus around the clock,” he said.
The Saudis have no one to blame but themselves for getting into this fix. If they'd been up front from the start, they could have put themselves ahead of the outbreak. Instead they followed the Hawkeye Pierce credo ("Never let it be said I didn't do the least I could possibly do"). They have consistently been a day late and a riyal short in every announcement.
Back in September 2013, I had the, um, chutzpah to post a Memo to the Saudi Minister of Health, suggesting a detailed, standard format for reporting cases, establishing a "human face and official voice" for the campaign against MERS, and improving the information content of the KSA MOH website.
A couple of weeks later, the KSA MOH wrote back; showing even more, um, chutzpah than I had, they claimed that they were pretty transparent compared to "several countries which have the diseases and that do not have ongoing scientific surveillance and transparency..."
After another six or seven months of such surveillance and transparency, the Saudis appear to be dealing with a mutiny of their heathcare workers and the continued spread of MERS (chiefly within the Kingdom, with only an occasional case elsewhere in the Gulf states).
They are also flamboyantly clue-free about how their own privacy-protected people are contracting this disease, except that camels seem to be involved. This is like saying cars are involved in the horrendous traffic-fatality rate in the Kingdom, which has killed far more people than MERS ever has.
But within a few weeks of the identification of H7N9, the Chinese health authorities had told the world and nailed the source. When people fall ill with it, they at least know to shut down the local wet markets. Even SARS got nailed in a few months, and has yet to raise its ugly head again.
We are not dealing with a poor, backward country here. The Saudi health minister went to school in Canada. But even Mali has a pretty good health-communications policy, and I'd believe them long before I'd believe the Saudis.
The Kingdom deliberately chose an opaque policy, telling the world as little as possible about MERS, when it could have turned to a worldwide network of experts who could have lent them a hand. They have no one to blame for their present troubles but themselves.