A Saudi farmer kisses a young she-camel Image Credit: Al Sharq

Manama: The formidable challenges faced by Saudi Arabia’s health authorities to raise awareness of the dangers of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) Coronavirus have become obvious in pictures and videos posted online by camel farmers. Scroll down to watch.

By Saturday night, Saudi Arabia had said that the death toll from the virus in the kingdom had touched 139 and the number of infections stood at 480.

Although some studies have concluded that the virus was “extraordinarily common” in camels and the Saudi acting health minister urged people to keep away from raw camel meat and milk and to avoid sick camels, owners have refused to pay attention.

Some of them are now openly challenging the claim that camels were a likely source of the deadly infection.

A Saudi farmer last week posted a clip of himself hugging and kissing camels while pouring scorn on the warnings to be cautious with the animals.

“Do sneeze in my face,” he said as he hugged one camel, putting his face against its head. “They claim camels carry the coronavirus,” he said, sarcastically.

Another Saudi national posted a picture showing him kissing a she-camel on the mouth to prove that the animals, very popular in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Gulf, could not be the source of infection.

Abdul Juraiwi Al Qahani, a well-known farmer, said that he was challenging the health ministry “to produce a single evidence that camels were the source of the coronavirus” and asked its officials to review their data and conclusions, local news site Al Weam reported on Sunday.

Other farmers also rejected the ministry’s caution warnings, arguing that they had lived for decades with camels and had never been infected by them.

The announcement of the latest fatalities in Saudi Arabia came the day after the WHO said it would hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the spread of the virus.

The UN health agency’s emergency committee has already met four times to discuss the mysterious coronavirus since it surfaced in 2012.

“The increase in the number of cases in different countries raises a number of questions,” spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva on Friday.