Saudi hospital head sacked over MERS panic

AFP , Wednesday 7 May 2014

Saudi Arabia
File Photo: A man wearing a surgical mask as a precautionary measure against the novel coronavirus walks near a hospital in Khobar city in Dammam, Saudi Arabia (Photo: Reuters)

Saudi Arabia's acting health minister has announced the sacking of the head of a Jeddah hospital where a spike in MERS infections among medical staff sparked panic among the public.

The move, which Adel Fakieh announced on Twitter late Tuesday, came after he inspected King Fahd Hospital's emergency department in the Red Sea city.

The facility was temporarily shut last month after several medics were infected by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus.

Panic at the western city's main hospital prompted at least four doctors to resign after they refused to treat MERS patients for fear of infection.

On April 21, nearly a week after the resignations, Riyadh dismissed the kingdom's health minister without saying why, and appointed Labour Minister Fakieh as acting health minister.

Fakieh, who has repeatedly promised "transparency" over MERS, said he has replaced the head of King Fahd hospital and his assistants.

"The new team will immediately take up its duties," he wrote on Twitter, adding that "the ministry will take all decisive measures to achieve its goals in preserving the health of members of the society."

Saudi Arabia, worst affected by the virus which first appeared in its eastern region before spreading across the kingdom, has so far reported 421 infections, among them 115 deaths.

Fakieh said last week that measures to contain the spread of MERS "will be announced in the coming days", as Western experts and representatives of the World Health Organisation met in Riyadh.

MERS is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.

There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments for MERS, a disease with a mortality rate of more than 40 percent that experts are still struggling to understand.

Some research has suggested that camels are a likely source of the virus.

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