Saudi Arabian health officials have announced that far more people have died from the MERS virus than previously thought. This came a day after the sacking of the country's deputy health minister.
A statement issued by the Saudi health ministry on Tuesday said that a review of already existing data had shown that the number of deaths resulting from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in fact stood at 282.
"A comprehensive revision" going back to 2012 has resulted in revising up the death toll, which had stood at 190 people, while the number of infected cases rose from 575 to 688 people, the statement said.
The new figures work out to a mortality rate from MERS of 41 percent, up from the previously calculated 33 percent.
But the health ministry said that, while these figures were up, the spread of the respiratory ailment appeared to be slowing, with 53 patients still in treatment and 353 having recovered.
The new figures were released a day after the acting health minister, Adel Faqih, sacked his deputy, Zaid Memish, according to a statement posted on the ministry's website. No reason was given for Memish's removal.
Memish was the second senior Saudi official to lose his job since the start of the MERS outbreak, after King Abdullah fired the previous health minister, Abduallach al-Rabiah following a spike in reported infections back in April.
The Saudi health ministry has faced criticism from some international scientists for refusing their help in investigating the outbreak.
MERS is regarded as a less transmissible but more deadly cousin of another virus known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed around 800 people during a global outbreak in 2003. MERS similarly starts with flu-like symptoms but, unlike SARS, can lead to rapid kidney failure.
Most of the reported cases have been in Saudi Arabia, but the virus has also be reported in more than a dozen other countries.
pfd/rc (AP, Reuters, AFP)