(In fifth paragraph, corrects rate of increase in total number
of cases to 25 percent from four-fold)
RIYADH, April 21 Saudi Arabian King Abdullah
removed Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabeeah from his post on
Monday as the kingdom grapples with a worrying surge of new
cases of the SARS-like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
His duties will be taken over by Labour Minister Adel
Fakieh, who keeps his current post, state television reported.
The television channel cited the king's royal decree in its
report but gave no reason for the switch.
Rabeeah, who on Sunday told a televised news conference
there was no medical reason to impose stricter preventative
measures against the spread of MERS, has been made an adviser to
the Royal Court, the decree said.
Saudi Arabia has reported 244 cases of MERS since the
disease was identified in 2012, of which 79 have been fatal. The
spread of new infections slowed during the winter, but there
has been a sudden increase in cases this month.
The 49 confirmed infections announced over the past week,
mostly in the port city of Jeddah, represent an increase of 25
percent in the total number of confirmed cases since the
The authorities have at times struggled to counter swirling
rumours on social media that they have not been transparent
about how far the disease has spread and how effective are the
preventative measures taken in hospitals.
Last week the cabinet told Saudi news outlets to report only
those cases that had been officially confirmed in laboratory
tests by the Health Ministry.
On Sunday, Rabeeah said he thought the sudden spurt of new
cases in Jeddah might have a seasonal cause, given there was
also an uptick in infections about a year ago, but added that he
had "no idea" why that might be.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Yara Bayoumy, Tom
Heneghan and David Holmes)