Via Arab News: MERS under control, Cabinet told. The whole report and then a comment:
The Council of Ministers has been “reassured” that every effort has been made to control the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus in Jeddah and the rest of the country.
Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja said Monday after the weekly Cabinet meeting here that Minister of Health Abdullah Al-Rabeeah had briefed ministers on the situation. Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, chaired the meeting.
“The Cabinet was reassured about the health situation in general and in Jeddah after the minister’s inspection of several public hospitals in the city,” Khoja said.
Al-Rabeeah had reassured the Cabinet that the situation was under control, Khoja said.
The Cabinet urged the media not to publish any news concerning the virus and other epidemic diseases except those approved by the government, Khoja said.
The statement comes in the wake of several people becoming infected at hospitals in Jeddah, including the death of a male Saudi nurse and two expatriates over the past week. The disease has now killed 69 people since 2012.
Al-Rabeeah toured hospitals on Saturday in a bid to calm fears. There have been several reports of people refusing to go to hospitals, and parents keeping their children at home.
I confess to poking fun at the Saudis, as I did this afternoon with the black magic story (also from Arab News). But we need to take them absolutely seriously.
This is a rich, powerful government based on the best practices of the 9th century. Saudi jurisprudence relies on beheadings and the whip to maintain social order (or at least to register its disapproval of disorder, which happens awfully often). If the Saudis didn't have oil, and hadn't been good negotiators about extracting it, some western nation would long ago have annexed the whole peninsula in a fit of absent-mindedness.
Like most absolutist governments, the Saudis will put up with a lot, but they hate to be embarrassed. In this, they stand with the Americans, Russians, and every other self-respecting, Machiavelli-respecting government on the planet. It's nice to be loved, better to be feared, and awful to be ridiculed.
MERS is opening the Saudis and their Gulf neighbours to both ridicule and disrespect. Wherever the stupid virus originated, it seems to love Saudi Arabia and especially its hospitals. It flourishes there, generating anxiety among healthcare workers and tweets among Saudis. This does not please the House of Saud.
That hardbitten realist Ibn Saud, the dynasty's founder, would have recognized the problem and confronted it head-on. By this stage of the MERS outbreak, he would have had the answer or the head of his minister of health.
His geriatric offspring have not recognized it and will not confront it. Instead, they say as little as possible, and threaten anyone who tries to say more. And they keep getting away with it, because what can the world do? Could WHO issue a travel advisory against the Hajj? Not likely. Could other nations insist on blood tests for travellers arriving from the Kingdom? Not likely.
So two years after this new virus was recognized, people are still falling ill and dying from MERS (pro tip: don't have any underlying health conditions). No one seems to have a clue about how they catch it, except from other cases. While the Chinese have flooded the medical literature with H7N9 reports, MERS research appears only sporadically and with little new information.
So we really do need to take the Saudis seriously. As individuals they're fine people, but their government is a hazard to their health.