Saudi names new health minister to fight MERS

Cases recede but continued vigilance needed

RIYADH - King Abdullah named a new health minister Monday to lead the fight against the MERS virus that has cost more than 350 lives in Saudi Arabia, after his predecessor was sacked.
Mohammad bin Ali bin Hayazaa al-Hayazaa replaces Abdullah al-Rabiah who was dismissed in April as concerns grew over the kingdom's handling of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
Before Hayazaa's appointment as part of a cabinet reshuffle, Labour Minister Adel Fakieh had been serving as acting health minister.
During the tenure of Fakieh, who promised "transparency" over MERS, the World Health Organisation said a surge in MERS cases had receded but urged continued vigilance.
In October, the ministry said MERS remained a significant threat to Saudi Arabia, after a series of cases in the western city of Taif.
Research by Saudi scientists indicates that camels play a role in the transmission of the virus to humans.
MERS has surfaced in about 20 countries but hit the Gulf kingdom hardest, with 818 cases and 352 deaths since 2012.
The health minister and other new cabinet members were appointed through royal decrees published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
In another key replacement, Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al-Khudair takes over the culture and information portfolio after Abdulaziz Khoja was sacked in November.
A royal decree fired Khoja after militants killed eight members of the minority Shiite community in an unprecedented attack in Eastern Province.
The decree said Khoja left the job "at his request". His dismissal followed Shiite calls for action against hate speech in the media.
New ministers were also named to several other portfolios but key posts including defence, foreign affairs and oil were unchanged.