Thai­land con­firms its first MERS case

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JU APILAPORN

Thai­land on Thurs­day said a 75-year-old man from Oman was con­firmed to have MERS in South­east Asia’s first case of the virus since an out­break in South Korea that has killed 23 peo­ple.

Mid­dle East Res­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome ( MERS) has spread at an alarm­ingly rapid pace in South Korea since the first case was di­ag­nosed on May 20, in­fect­ing 165 in what is the largest out­break out­side Saudi Ara­bia.

Thai­land, a boom­ing med­i­cal tourism hub pop­u­lar with Mid­dle Eastern pa­tients, an­nounced its first pos­i­tive MERS case Thurs­day af­ter around 20 peo­ple ear­lier tested neg­a­tive for the virus.

“(The man) is from a Mid­dle Eastern coun­try. The ( test) re­sults con­firmed that he has Mid­dle East Res­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome,” said Ra­jata Ra­jatanavin, Thai­land’s Public Health Min­is­ter, adding the pa­tient had ar­rived in the king­dom with his fam­ily three days ago.

A Thai gov­ern­ment spokesman later told re­porters the man was from Oman and had trav­elled to a cen­tral Bangkok hos­pi­tal for treat­ment for a heart prob­lem.

Af­ter be­ing tested for MERS he was moved to Bam­ras­naradura In­fec­tious Dis­eases In­sti­tute in Non­thaburi province on the out­skirts of the Thai cap­i­tal Bangkok on Thurs­day morn­ing.

Author­i­ties are look­ing for peo­ple who were on the same flight as well as any­one else who came in con­tact with man dur­ing his time in Bangkok.

“We are con­fi­dent that we can con­trol the out­break,” said spokesman Maj. Gen. Sun­sern Kaewkam­n­erd in a state­ment, adding that “dis­ease con­trol” mea­sures were in place, in­clud­ing mon­i­tor­ing the health of his three fam­ily mem­bers.

Ear­lier Thurs­day World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion chief Mar­garet Chan ex­pressed guarded op­ti­mism over South Korea’s abil­ity to con­tain a MERS out­break af­ter the WHO pre­vi­ously de­scribed the spread of the dis­ease as a “wake-up call.”

Un­der Con­trol

“Our cur­rent as­sess­ment of the MERS sit­u­a­tion in South Korea ... is the gov­ern­ment is now on a very good foot­ing,” she told re­porters, adding that the sit­u­a­tion does not con­sti­tute an in­ter­na­tional public health emer­gency.

“The MERS out­break

will be brought un­der con­trol ... although it may take a lit­tle longer than ev­ery­one would like to see,” said Chan, who is in South Korea for a pre­vi­ously sched­uled con­fer­ence.

She said that the gov­ern­ment had ad­mit­ted it got off to a “slow start” but that its ef­forts strength­ened “very quickly and sys­tem­i­cally and very sig­nif­i­cantly,” re­sult­ing in a de­cline in new cases.

The good news is that sci­en­tists have not de­tected any ge­netic change in the virus, she said.

Chan’s com­ments came as South Korea’s health min­istry re­ported three more deaths and three more cases, de­spite author­i­ties say­ing ear­lier in the week that South Korea had weath­ered the worst of the cri­sis.

The WHO said Wed­nes­day that a lack of aware­ness about the virus among health work­ers and the public was a ma­jor con­tribut­ing fac­tor to its rapid spread.

Quar­an­tine

More than 6,700 peo­ple are cur­rently be­ing held in quar­an­tine in South Korea in a bid to halt the spread of the virus, up 3 per­cent from Wed­nes­day.

Around 4,500 oth­ers have al­ready been re­leased from iso­la­tion.

But alarm­ing re­ports of in­fected peo­ple slip­ping through quar­an­tine mea­sures have un­der­mined gov­ern­ment ef­forts to as­suage public fear over a virus that has al­ready be­gun hurt­ing the coun­try’s sag­ging econ­omy.

A 41-year-old man be­lat­edly told author­i­ties that he de­vel­oped symp­toms sev­eral days ear­lier than he had ini­tially re­ported, prompt­ing health work­ers to ur­gently quar­an­tine dozens of peo­ple he had come into con­tact with on the re­sort is­land of Jeju.

The in­fected man re­fused to stay in hos­pi­tal while be­ing tested and threw a tantrum, vow­ing to “spread the virus ev­ery­where” and break­ing a hos­pi­tal door lock. He then took a taxi and re­turned home, be­fore be­ing forcibly put in iso­la­tion.

The last con­firmed case in the coun­try in­volved a 79- year- old man who had been re­ceiv­ing dial­y­sis at a hos­pi­tal in Seoul even af­ter he de­vel­oped MERS symp­toms nine days ago.

The 111 other pa­tients who re­ceived dial­y­sis treat­ment in the same hos­pi­tal room will now have to be put un­der quar­an­tine, the min­istry said.

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