Saudi Arabia announced late Wednesday that five more people have died and two others are undergoing intensive treatment as a result of the new novel coronavirus (NCoV), a cousin of SARS that causes kidney failure and pneumonia. The latest in a slow trickle of information brings the mortality rate to 16 deaths among 24 known infections—and not unlike China with its bird flu outbreak, the Saudi government isn’t exactly being straightforward about how many people are sick. If humans are dying, why don’t we know more about how and why?
The Saudi Health Ministry, according to the BBC, said in a statement that it is taking “all precautionary measures for persons who have been in contact with the infected people… and has taken samples from them to examine if they are infected.” And while the Saudi news agency SPA isreporting by way of the ministry that these seven latest cases come from the eastern province, there’s one important public-safety caveat: The chief Saudi health officials aren’t making public exactly how many people are sick with NCoV. That could be to prevent fears of a massive outbreak, but this is certainly looking like a very lethal outbreak. And we appear to be receiving word slowly: The first of the infected cases was reported not by the Saudi health ministers but by the World Health Organization, which last said in March that it had been informed of 17 cases and 11 deaths. All of a sudden, the number of known human infections grew by 40 percent, to 24.