S. Korea min­is­ter makes apol­ogy over MERS virus

The China Post - - BUSINESS -

South Korea’s health min­is­ter apol­o­gized Sun­day for fail­ing to halt an out­break of the MERS virus, vow­ing “ut­most ef­forts” to curb the dis­ease’s spread as the num­ber in­fected rose to 15.

“We apolo­gies for caus­ing con­cern and anx­i­ety among peo­ple due to ... our ini­tial judg­ment on the con­ta­gious­ness of MERS,” Min­is­ter Moon Hyung-pyo told re­porters.

Moon added this week would be a “crit­i­cal pe­riod” to con­tain the spread of MERS, or Mid­dle East Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome, which can cause symptoms rang­ing from flu­like aches and pains to pneu­mo­nia and kid­ney fail­ure.

“We are mak­ing our ut­most ef­forts to pre­vent the fur­ther spread of the dis­ease,” Moon said, urg­ing the public not to panic.

Health of­fi­cials have come un­der fire for al­low­ing an in­fected man to travel to China de­spite warn­ings from doc­tors.

The 44-year-old left on a busi­ness trip on Tues­day, a day af­ter his fa­ther was di­ag­nosed with the virus, and was con­firmed Fri­day to have been in­fected him­self.

The man flew to Hong Kong be­fore trav­el­ing by bus to the Chi­nese city of Huizhou, where he is cur­rently be­ing treated un­der quar­an­tine.

Dozens of peo­ple — in­clud­ing his col­leagues and pas­sen­gers who sat near him on the same flight — have been or are ex­pected to be ex­am­ined or quar­an­tined.

The cur­rent out­break has mean­while been traced to a 68-year-old man di­ag­nosed on May 20 af­ter re­turn­ing from a trip to Saudi Ara­bia.

The 14 oth­ers who ac­quired the virus were pa­tients in the same hos­pi­tal as the man, their rel­a­tives or hos­pi­tal staff with whom he came into con­tact.

Moon said the hos­pi­tal where the first out­break was re­ported has been closed and all pa­tients were be­ing treated in quar­an­tine, but would not dis­close its name or lo­ca­tion for fear of spread­ing panic.

MERS is con­sid­ered a dead­lier but less in­fec­tious cousin of Se­vere Acute Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome (SARS), which killed hun­dreds of peo­ple when it ap­peared in Asia in 2003.

A to­tal of 129 peo­ple who were ex­posed di­rectly or in­di­rectly to the pa­tients have been quar­an­tined or put un­der spe­cial ob­ser­va­tion so far.

But “a far greater num­ber” will be quar­an­tined or put un­der ob­ser­va­tion this week as more peo­ple were di­ag­nosed with the dis­ease over the week­end, health of­fi­cials said.

More than 20 coun­tries have been af­fected by the virus with no known cure or vac­cine, with most cases in Saudi Ara­bia where more than 400 have been killed since 2012.

The South’s out­break of MERS is the largest among coun­tries out­side the Mid­dle East.

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