Saudi Arabia has confirmed 26 more cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which has killed nearly a third of sufferers, and said 10 more people have died from the disease, with the death toll topping 100.
The weekend announcements follow Egypt's statement on Saturday that it confirmed its first case of MERS, in a man who recently returned to the country from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, where he was working.
Saudi Arabia, where MERS was discovered about two years ago and where most infections have been reported, has had 339 confirmed MERS cases, of which 102 have been fatal.
The 143 cases announced since the start of April represent a 73 percent jump in infections in Saudi Arabia this month.
The new cases were announced in two statements published on the Health Ministry website on Saturday and Sunday.
The 10 confirmed on Saturday included seven in Jeddah, the center of the recent outbreak; two in Riyadh; and another in Mecca. Two MERS patients died.
The 16 further cases confirmed on Sunday included two in Riyadh, eight in Jeddah and six in the northern city of Tabuk. Eight people with MERS died on Sunday.
Acting Health Minister Adel Fakieh said on Saturday he has designated three hospitals in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam on the Gulf coast as specialist centers for MERS treatment.
The three hospitals can accommodate 146 patients in intensive care, he said in comments carried by local press on Sunday.
Many Saudis have voiced concerns on social media about government handling of the outbreak, and last week King Abdullah sacked the health minister.
The hajj, the yearly pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca, will bring millions of believers to the country in October, raising alarm that the disease, already confirmed in at least 11 countries, could spread further.
MERS is a deadlier but less contagious cousin of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which erupted in Asia in 2003, infecting 8,273 people and killing 9 percent of them.
But some fear MERS could mutate. Right now, the coronavirus that causes it, similar to the common cold, doesn’t spread easily between humans. However, experts worry it could become more transmissible.
In Jeddah, a port and commercial hub on the kingdom’s Red Sea coast, some people are wearing face masks and avoiding public gatherings, while pharmacies say sales of hand sanitizers and other hygiene products have soared.
Al Jazeera and wire services