Saudi Arabia suspects Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) may have arrived in camels from the Horn of Africa, and could ban such imports until it knows more, the kingdom’s chief scientist told Reuters.

Tariq Madani, who heads the scientific advisory board of the Saudi health ministry command and control center (CCC) – set up to handle the outbreak of MERS – said scientists are currently testing camels at sea ports before authorities allow them in.

MERS was first identified in humans in 2012 and is caused by a coronavirus from the same viral family as the one that caused a deadly outbreak of SARS in China in 2003. More than 700 people in Saudi Arabia have contracted it and 292 of them have died, according to latest data from the Saudi health ministry.

“We do have suspicions that the disease may have been imported through camel trade from the Horn of Africa, but we haven’t proved it yet,” Madani told Reuters in a telephone interview from Jeddah.

Any ban on the camel trade with the region would badly hurt the already fragile economy of Somalia, which is a major livestock exporter to Saudi Arabia.