'I'm not an idiot': Mers-hit doctor contradicts Seoul mayor's story

A subway train carriage in Seoul being disinfected on Thursday. The outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome in South Korea has claimed a fourth life and the number of confirmed cases has risen to 42.
A subway train carriage in Seoul being disinfected on Thursday. The outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome in South Korea has claimed a fourth life and the number of confirmed cases has risen to 42.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The Mers-afflicted doctor said to have exposed as many as 1,500 people to the virus last weekend has defended himself, telling local media he was not as idiotic as he was made out to be.

The 38-year-old also claimed yesterday that he realised he might have been in contact with a Mers patient only on Sunday, a day after he attended a union meeting in Seoul that drew more than 1,500 people.

This contradicts what city mayor Park Won Soon said on Thursday, that he attended large-scale events over the weekend despite showing suspected Mers symptoms last Friday, sending panic waves throughout the country and prompting speculation that the virus had spread beyond the hospitals.

Mr Park also said the doctor had dinner with his family at a mall last Saturday, which meant he could have had contact with even more people.

The doctor, who works in a large general hospital in Seoul, told political news website Pressian that he felt "wronged" after seeing media reports about his supposedly irresponsible act.

Reporting for work on Sunday morning, he said, he found out from colleagues that one of the patients in the hospital had tested positive for Mers, and that he and the patient had been in the same room on May 27.

"Then it struck me that what I thought were my usual sinus infection issues could be Mers symptoms."

He said he reported his symptoms to a hospital, and was diagnosed with Mers on Tuesday. His wife also went for a test but the result was negative. On Thursday, the Health Ministry said the doctor was among six new cases.

"I'm a doctor, of course I know what to do when specific symptoms show up," he said, adding that the Seoul city government had created chaos by giving misleading information.

When asked how he felt about the whole saga, the doctor said he was boiling with rage. "Suddenly I was painted as an idiot, but I did not do anything so brainless."

CHANG MAY CHOON