The latest cases highlight the challenge facing Saudi authorities as the country prepares to host pilgrims from more than 100 countries during the Haj and Umrah pilgrimages. Elizabeth Dickinson reports
Deadly coronavirus Mers claims 40th victim in Saudi Arabia
The latest cases highlight the challenge facing Saudi authorities as the country prepares to host pilgrims from more than 100 countries during the Haj and Umrah pilgrimages.
More than 3 million people attended the pilgrimage last year, but Saudi authorities have reduced countries' quotas by 20 per cent for 2013 while construction is underway to expand Mecca's Grand Mosque.
The Saudi health ministry said the 51-year-old man who died in Riyadh was also suffering from cancer and other chronic diseases, while tests of two new suspected cases involving Saudi men in the south-western province of Asir proved positive.
The new virus is related to Sars, or Severe Acute respiratory syndrome, which killed about 800 people in a global outbreak in 2003. Middle East respiratory syndrome has a higher mortality rate, but has spread more slowly since it was first diagnosed in September last year and mostly infected patients with pre-existing conditions. It belongs to a family of viruses that most often causes the common cold.
Ninety-four cases of Mers have been confirmed worldwide and 16 more are suspected; the majority have been detected in Saudi Arabia.
Five cases have been reported in the UAE.
International health officials are worried about the virus spreading during the annual pilgrimage. In May, the World Health Organisation chief, Margaret Chan, called Mers her "greatest concern" and a "threat to the entire world".
Also yesterday, officials in Riyadh released health guidelines for Hajis, recommending that no one older than 65 or with chronic or immunological diseases undertake the pilgrimage. Although health guidelines, which include information such as required vaccinations, are issued every year, yesterday's announcement included a special warning about Mers.
As part of the response to Mers, pregnant women and children should also "postpone the performance of the Haj and Umrah for their own safety", according to the state news agency.
For those attending, the health ministry urged general good sanitation practices, including wearing face masks in crowded areas and washing hands often.
"In the event of a public health emergency of international concern," the state news agency said, authorities would take all precautions "to avoid the spread of infection during the pilgrimage or on return to their country of origin".
* With additional reporting from the Associated Press