Saudi Arabia Removes Health Minister as Deadly Virus Spreads

Saudi Arabia removed its health minister from his post as the country struggles to combat an outbreak of a deadly respiratory virus.

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

Saudi Arabia says 19 people in Jeddah and Riyadh have tested positive for the coronavirus, which causes Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, since April 18. Al-Rabeeah said at a press conference in the capital on April 20 that total cases have risen to 244, and the government expects more. 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 virus has spread to Southeast Asia, killing a Malaysian man who visited Saudi Arabia and infecting a Filipino health-care worker returning from Abu Dhabi, the WHO said last week.

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

The Saudi health ministry sent text messages to the country’s 30 million residents last week to alert them about the disease. The virus doesn’t spread 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.

To contact the reporter on this story: Deema Almashabi in Riyadh at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at Ben Holland, Robert Tuttle

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