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Deadly virus spreads in Saudi Arabia

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(Bloomberg) — Saudi Arabia removed its health minister from his post as the country struggles to combat an outbreak of the deadly coronavirus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Abdullah al-Rabeeah was relieved of his duties and will become an adviser to the royal court, the official Saudi Press Agency said yesterday. He’ll be replaced on an acting basis by Labor Minister Adel Faqih, the SPA said.

The Ministry of Health said yesterday on its website that 12 more people tested positive for the MERS coronavirus, bringing the total number of reported cases in the kingdom to 261.

Al-Rabeeah said at an April 20 press conference that he expected to get reports of more cases over the coming three weeks.

At least 93 people have died of the disease since it emerged in Saudi Arabia in September 2012, according to the World Health Organization.

The health ministry sent text messages to the country’s 30 million residents last week to alert them to the dangers of the disease.

The virus has not been spreading easily between people, and no cases have been observed related to crowds, in schools or at football stadiums, the SPA cited a ministry official as saying.

Faqih posted a photo of himself wearing a blue mask and plastic gown while visiting a MERS patient in the King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah. In an accompanying statement on his twitter account and Facebook pages, the acting health minister pledged to keep the public informed of any developments relating to the virus and said that health and safety are the main priorities of King Abdullah.

The virus has spread to Southeast Asia, killing a Malaysian man who visited Saudi Arabia, the WHO said last week. A Filipino health-care worker returning from Abu Dhabi who initially tested positive for MERS was shown not to have the virus when a second test was carried out.

The government is ready for the Hajj season, when pilgrims from all over the world converge on the desert kingdom, Al-Rabeeah had said at the April 20 press conference. In October last year, about 2 million people made the pilgrimage to Mecca, according to Saudi officials.

A video aimed at raising awareness of the virus was released by the Ministry of Health on April 19 and is being aired by local TV channels. It advises viewers to take precautions that include wearing masks in public.

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