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Panic grips Saudi Arabia as new cases of coronavirus confirmed

Published: Updated:

Four new cases of the SARS-like novel coronavirus have been confirmed in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, state media reported late on Monday, citing the health ministry.

The health ministry said one of the four new cases had been treated and the patient had been released from hospital, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

On Sunday, a wave of panic hit the kingdom as the health ministry said it had had a total of 24 confirmed cases since the disease was identified last year, of whom 15 had died. In its latest outbreak in its Eastern Province, it said it had had 15 confirmed cases, of whom nine had died.

Among those was a nine-year-old girl who died a few hours after arriving at hospital with a strong fever.

Another fatality was Haidar Ghanem, a disabled 21-year-old man who had a "strong fever" for a week, according to his father Mokhtar. He died last Thursday, four days after being admitted to hospital after falling unconscious.

While the virus has been deadliest in Saudi Arabia, cases have also been reported in Jordan, Germany, Britain as well as France.

The French Health Ministry confirmed a second case of the deadly new respiratory virus on Sunday, the Associated Press reported.

The ministry statement said a hospital roommate of the 65-year-old man who initially contracted the virus has tested positive.

The two shared a room for a few days in late April at Valenciennes hospital in northern France, and hence were in “prolonged and close contact.” Both are now hospitalized in nearby Lille.

Four suspected cases, all people who had contact with the initial patient, were false alarms.

The WHO’s assistant director general for health security and the environment, Keiji Fukuda, told a Riyadh news conference on Sunday the new virus posed an “important and major challenge” for countries affected and the world generally, AFP reported.

He said experts were still grappling to understand all aspects of the virus and how humans become infected, stressing, however, that “this new virus is not the SARS virus.”

“This is a new infection and there are also many gaps in our knowledge that will inevitably take time to fill in,” a WHO statement cited Fukuda as saying.

“The greatest global concern, however, is about the potential for this new virus to spread. Of most concern, however, is the fact that the different clusters seen in multiple countries increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact this novel coronavirus can transmit from person-to-person,” he said.

“This pattern of person-to-person transmission has remained limited to some small clusters, and so far, there is no evidence that this virus has the capacity to sustain generalized transmission in communities.”