Death toll hits 81 with 17 more MERS cases reported
The number of people infected with the virus now stands at 261. Saudi King fires Health minister, who had said that MERS-related deaths had dropped by 60 per cent, that more than 20,000 people had been examined over the last few weeks, and that his ministry had done a good job.

Jeddah (AsiaNews/Agencies) - An outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) appears to be spreading quickly. In Saudi Arabia, 17 new cases have been confirmed, bringing the total number of infections in that country to 261, 81 of whom have died. In Greece and Jordan, the authorities have also reported MERS cases.

On Monday, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz fired Health Minister Abdullah Al Rabeeah amid growing concerns about the kingdom's handling of the MERS virus.

Acting Health Minister Adel Fakieh on Tuesday toured one of the main hospitals in Jeddah.

The spread of the virus among medical staff in Jeddah triggered the temporary closure of a hospital emergency room in the city earlier this month.

The now fired minister had visited the facility last week in a bid to reassure the public but on Wednesday at least four doctors at the King Fahd Hospital reportedly resigned after refusing to treat MERS patients.

At a press conference, al Rabeeah had said that no case had been recorded at any schools and that the number of medical staff infected was down.

He had also noted that rate of deaths had dropped from 60 per cent to 32 per cent, with more than 20,000 people undergoing examination over the past few weeks.

Twenty-two experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and specialised centres in Europe, US and Asia are expected to arrive in Saudi Arabia this week and hold a meeting with experts from the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Health minister announced on Monday.

Scientists are still struggling to understand MERS and develop vaccines to treat it.