x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

How to solve the mystery of the coronavirus

Until all the questions about Mers are answered, experts must continue to closely monitor the situation and share what information they have.

The Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (Mers-CoV) appeared last September but remains a mystery to us all.

Overall, 42 people have died from Mers, most of them in Saudi Arabia, although two cases have been linked to the UAE: one concerns a 73-year-old Emirati who died in a German hospital, the other involves a French tourist who was admitted to a hospital in northern France after visiting Dubai.

Many of the important facts about Mers are still unknown, particularly where it comes from and how it spreads. However, although it has a worryingly high mortality rate, most of those who have died already had pre-existing conditions.

As The National reported yesterday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has formed an emergency committee to determine whether the virus should be classified as a "public health emergency of international concern".

The organisation's members will exchange information and coordinate efforts on Tuesday and two issues certain to be under scrutiny will be how many cases currently remain undetected and how deep is the reservoir of mild infections.

The tone of these discussions will no doubt be led by Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO's assistant director-general for health, security and environment, who has said that "we are not in the midst of an acute event right now".

In line with that statement, the organisation does not recommend placing any restrictions on travel to and from Saudi Arabia for those performing Haj this year.

In fact, any disruption to normal travel plans would be inappropriate, especially with the current levels of uncertainty that surround our understanding of the virus.

It is fair to say that three possible scenarios exist for its future.

First, the virus could remain at the current rate of infection, affecting roughly 20 people per month. Second, it could evolve and become an epidemic. Third, it could become much weaker and simply die out. We can only hope for the last outcome.

But until all the questions are answered, experts must continue to closely monitor the situation and share what information they have.