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Senior Saudi infectious diseases consultant dies of coronavirus

Days earlier, Adel al-Othman warned against complacency as Covid-19 cases exceed 100,000 in Saudi Arabia
An aerial view shows deserted streets in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah during the coronavirus crisis, on 21 April 2020 (AFP)

The head of infectious diseases at Saudi Arabia’s National Guard hospital died of coronavirus on Monday, Middle East Eye has learned, days after warning against complacency as the kingdom struggles to contain the pandemic.

News of Adel al-Othman’s death first broke when his cousin announced in a tweet that he had died of Covid-19.

The cousin, Sami al-Othman, later removed the tweet, posting an apology and saying Adel al-Othman had in fact died of a heart attack.

However, sources told MEE that Saudi authorities pressured Sami al-Othman to delete his initial tweet and said Adel's cause of death was the coronavirus.

Days before his death, Adel al-Othman appeared in an interview in which he warned against complacency in dealing with the coronavirus and stressed the importance of abiding by the necessary precautions.

MEE has asked the Saudi government for comment, without response by the time of publication.

Riyadh has attempted to open up the kingdom after weeks of strict local and kingdom-wide lockdowns, but the virus continues to spread rapidly.

Coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia exceeded 100,000 on Sunday after a spike in new infections over a period of ten days, with the number of daily cases topping 3,000 for the first time on Saturday.

Sources told MEE that half of the anaesthesia department at King Faisal Hospital, where members of the royal family are treated, have contracted the virus.

In April, the New York Times said as many as 150 royals are now believed to have the virus, including members of its lower branches, a person close to the family told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, MEE reported in March that the hospital had been temporarily closed after an anaesthetist tested positive for Covid-19.

After having eased lockdown measures, the kingdom reimposed a 3pm-6am curfew in the city of Jeddah for 15 days in response to the jump in cases.

The Red Sea city is a gateway to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, where millions of people flock to perform the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

Days after the kingdom recorded its first coronavirus case, Saudi authorities suspended Umrah and later asked people to put plans for Hajj on hold.

The kingdom has not suspended the Hajj pilgrimage, expected to start in late July, but sources told Reuters on Monday that it may drastically cut down the number of pilgrims allowed to perform the religious journey this year.

Saudi health authorities said in April that the virus could eventually infect between 10,000 and 200,000 in the country of 30 million people.

With 108,571 confirmed cases, Saudi Arabia has registered the highest number of Covid-19 infections among the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

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