Monday, August 24, 2015

More Postcards From The MERS Twitterverse


MERS PSA - Credit Saudi MOH




A few times over the past three years we’ve taken a look at the MERS twitterverse (Arabic hashtag ` كورونا (`SK’ or `Corona’)‘, and as you might imagine with the recent MERS outbreak in Riyadh, the topic is getting a lot of attention across Arabic social media.


As noted previously, there is a lot of repetition of `official’ statements or `safe’ news stories  – almost as if there is an orchestrated attempt to control the message - with hundreds of tweets (originating from many different accounts – not just re-tweets) flooding the system simultaneously, all containing the same message. 


A great deal of the available content comes directly from the MOH, with scores of Public Service videos, posters, and updates being constantly retweeted.



Beyond the steady stream of public health messaging (cover coughs, wash hands, avoid camels), we see hundreds of retweets of every related news item (daily case totals, promises of a vaccine `soon’, reports either blaming or exonerating camels, etc.). 


Getting a lot of play today are pictures of the isolation tents set up outside Riyadh’s National Guard Hospital.



But buried between the news and the official statements is also a fair amount of grumbling over the government’s inability to halt the spread of the virus.


Last week the following poster showing the 6 Ministers of Health who have held office since  MERS first appeared in 2012, with the caption `Six Ministers and still #كورونا remain and expand ‘, was hugely popular.



Many of this week’s tweets seem centered on how South Korea was able to bring their MERS outbreak under control in a matter of a few weeks, while Saudi Arabia continues to struggle after three years.   A few examples:


Note the 473 retweets.   This is getting a lot of play in just a few days.  Another version follows:



The difference in the fatality rate of MERS in South Korea vs. Saudi Arabia is getting some mention as well, sparked by last week’s paper in the EID Journal  (Mortality Risk Factors for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Outbreak, South Korea, 2015 by Maimuna S. Majumder, Sheryl A. Kluberg, Sumiko R. Mekaru, and John S. Brownstein).


There are, of course, a lot of factors influencing the fatality rate, not the least of which are the percentage of cases with pre-existing conditions in KSA versus Korea.  


While the vast majority of tweets on the `#كورونا ‘ timeline follow the governmental line, as this outbreak in Riyadh continues to grow, so does the palpable level of frustration in the Saudi Twitterverse. 

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