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Saudi Arabia has 13 cases of SARS-like coronavirus: WHO

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has had 13 cases in a recent outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus that has emerged from the Gulf and spread as far as Britain and France, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday, and seven of those have died.

Saudi Arabia has reported 23 confirmed cases in total, Qatar two, Jordan two, Britain two and the United Arab Emirates one, the WHO said. Although there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human spread, there are concerns about clusters of cases.

France reported its first case on Wednesday.

The latest Saudi outbreak was restricted to al-Ahsa governorate in Eastern Province and all those infected had pre-existing health conditions, Arab News newspaper quoted Doctor Jafar al-Tawfiq, an infections specialist in Eastern Province, as saying.

Officials at Al-Moosa hospital in the town of Hofuf in Ahsa, where the patients are being treated, declined to comment.

WHO spokesman Glenn Thomas said in Geneva on Wednesday that Saudi authorities are organizing a mission with two WHO staff and that their focus will be on Hofuf. The first reports of infections in the recent outbreak were on April 14, WHO said.

Saudi state news agency SPA quoted Deputy Health Minister Mansour al-Hawasi on Tuesday as saying the situation "called for no concern" and that the ministry had taken all precautions around anyone who had been in contact with those infected.

Worldwide, there have been 30 laboratory-confirmed infections, including 18 deaths, since it came to scientists' attention last September, the WHO's Thomas said.

Other strains of coronavirus can cause common colds as well as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that emerged in Asia in 2003 and killed 775 people.

A retrospective study in Jordan found that there had been an outbreak of the new virus there as long ago as April 2012, with two confirmed cases and 11 probable ones, including 10 health care workers, the WHO's Thomas said.

(Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Catherine Bremer in Paris; Editing by Louise Ireland and Yara Bayoumy)

(This story was refiled to clarify seven of 13 people infected with cororavirus have died)

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