Via Arab News, a report datelined Jeddah: SMS campaign fights MERS. Excerpt:
The Ministry of Health is sending SMS to residents to dispel myths surrounding coronavirus.
The SMS reassures residents that the virus does not spread unless there has been direct contact with pneumonia patients.
Restaurants are empty and schools have recorded high absenteeism among teachers and students thanks to rumors going rampant on social media sites.
In fact, schools have requested the Ministry of Education to look into the matter and declare a tentative break until the situation improves.
“People should not panic because the rumors far outweigh the reality,” said one doctor working at a prominent hospital in Jeddah, who requested anonymity. “My wife received a message that my hospital admitted 170 coronavirus patients, when in reality we don’t have a single one.”
“One patient had been suspected but has not been diagnosed,” he said. “There were even rumors that our ER had shut down, which were wholly untrue.”
Hospitals are empty because of these rumors, which is not a bad thing since residents have been advised to avoid large crowds, he said. “Taking precautionary measures is advisable, but this does not have to spin out of control into a case of collective panic.”
“Getting the coronavirus does not mean you will die,” he said. “Furthermore, falling ill with the flu at this time does not mean it is the coronavirus.”
The Health Ministry is combating rumors that hospitals have been shut down in Jeddah through several portals, said Mansour Al-Suwaidan, project manager of the Health Information Systems implementation project (HIS).
“The ministry has established toll free number 8002494444 and a Twitter account (@saudimoh) to help put residents at ease.”
The ministry has also established a website link on their portal, mainly to educate members of the public about the virus and shed light on several cases, he said. “Several TV programs are also discussing the issue and reaffirming the fact that the ministry has not notified schools or hospitals to shut down.”
“The coronavirus does not spread easily among humans,” said Abdullah Asiri, assistant deputy minister for preventive medicine and member of the National Scientific Committee for Infectious Diseases. “You need to be in direct contact with a pneumonia patient. To date, there has not been a single case that has been associated with large crowds, such as in Haj or Umrah, or at schools or stadiums."
“There has also been no proven correlation between climate change in the Kingdom and an increase in the incidence of the virus,” said Asiri. “We had, however, noted an increase in the number of cases at around the same time last year.”
The virus had not disappeared between these two periods, he said. "Cases are recorded every month, which are announced by the ministry only when confirmed."
Full marks to the MOH for tackling issues in the social media; if only they'd done so sooner and in more detail. I'm disappointed to see they keep repeating that line about "not a single case" associated with Umrah, when the Malaysian pilgrim's death is in papers all over the world.