Saudi Arabians are brazenly engaging in public displays of affection in defiance of the authorities. But this proud show of love is not between people, but man and his camel.
Saudi Arabia's government issued a public health warning last week asking people to wear face masks and gloves around camels in order to halt the deadly surge in Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases.
International health experts believe camels are behind the spiraling infection rate of the disease, which has killed over 100 people in Saudi Arabia since it was discovered in the kingdom in 2012, according to NBC News.
But The Independent reports that the role of camels in the spread of the illness had been largely absent from debates inside Saudi Arabia.
With a strong historical attachment to their animals due to the kingdom's nomadic past, some Saudi citizens have expressed disbelief and are posting photos of themselves on social media in very close contact with their camels.
الله يستر من فيروس كورونا ولكن ما نقدر نصبر عن الابل لها محبة خاصة والصورة تغني عن الكلام . pic.twitter.com/urHIUzlr5J
— نواف الحدباء (@nawaf4908) May 9, 2014
اليوم عند الابل .... pic.twitter.com/g9Vr0A2ccf
— فهد بن عبدالله (@AlHaqbani_F) May 10, 2014
— مساعد الكثيري (@drrdob) May 13, 2014
— ماجد الخمري (@AL_5omry) May 2, 2014
Reuters reports that some Saudi citizens are criticizing the government for a lack of transparency in their handling of the health crisis. One Twitter user urged the health minister to publish evidence linking MERS to camels, according to Al Arabiya. And Saudi camel farmers have protested that they have been living for years without getting infected, according to Gulf News.
Another man posted a video of himself hugging and kissing two camels, exclaiming "Look at me! Sneeze, sneeze! They say there's Corona in this," referring to the coronavirus that causes MERS, the BBC reports.
But Saudi authorities warn that such health precautions, which also include avoiding camel milk or sick animals, are deadly serious. According to Reuters, there is no vaccine or anti-viral treatment for MERS and around a third of MERS cases in Saudi Arabia have been fatal.
Saudi Arabia has been the center of a regional outbreak of the disease, the subject of an emergency World Health Organization meeting on Wednesday. Last week, the first two cases of MERS were diagnosed in the U.S.
Arabic infographic warning about transmission via camels. (Twitter)
— واعي (@Wa3ey_) May 11, 2014