No new Mers cases in South Korea

But death of 63-year-old man raises number of fatalities to 25

Seoul- South Korea said there had been no new cases of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) reported for the first time in 16 days, raising hopes that the country is winning the battle to contain the deadly virus.

But a 63-year-old man died in the southern city of Jeonju late yesterday, raising the number of fatalities to 25, a Health Ministry official said.

He apparently contracted the virus on May 27 in the emergency room of Samsung Medical Centre in southern Seoul, which he visited with his wife, who suffers from cancer, Yonhap news agency said.

Confirmed cases were stable at 166 over the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said.

Separately, Thailand's Health Ministry revealed yesterday that the number of people deemed to have been exposed to the country's only Mers case went up from 85 to 175.

But Thailand's only Mers patient, a 75-year-old Omani man, was "slightly better", a ministry spokesman said. No new cases in the country have been confirmed.

In South Korea, the situation was looking up. Six more patients recovered and were released from hospital, cutting to 106 the number now undergoing treatment. Restrictions on more than 700 people were lifted yesterday, leaving some 5,200 people in quarantine.

The ministry last Friday reported one new case, the lowest rate of new infections in two weeks, saying the outbreak appeared to have started subsiding since the first case was diagnosed on May 20.

One of those who had recovered was 37-year-old doctor Park Kyu Tae, who also contracted the virus at Samsung Medical Centre - one of the epicentres of the outbreak - on May 27.

He recovered fully from the disease and returned home last Thursday, only a week after he was diagnosed.

Dr Park caught the virus while he was working in the hospital's emergency room, which had been contaminated by a "super spreader" of the virus, the JoongAng Ilbo daily reported.

The deadly disease, which was first identified in Saudi Arabia, has killed 25 people and infected 166 people in South Korea since it was detected there last month.

In Thailand, which last Thursday reported South-east Asia's first case of Mers since the deadly virus was confirmed in South Korea, the authorities stepped up measures to contain the outbreak.

Bangkok's main airport has installed additional thermoscan machines to detect and isolate passengers arriving with a fever, one of the symptoms of Mers, said a Health Ministry statement yesterday.

It has also set up counters offering passengers alcohol gel disinfectant and free surgical masks.

However, when contacted yesterday by The Straits Times, Thai Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin would not say how many of the people exposed to the Mers case have been contacted and quarantined.

"We don't want the public to panic," he said. "We try to track them down as best as possible."

Last Friday, he had told reporters the chances of a Mers outbreak in Thailand like the one in South Korea were low.

"Health authorities were able to isolate the patient very quickly before he could travel any further and infect others. The patient spent most of his time in hospitals," said Mr Rajata.

The virus was first detected in Thailand in the Omani patient, who travelled to Bangkok for treatment for a heart condition.

Three relatives of the man are being kept in isolation rooms at the institute and had tested negative for the virus, Mr Surachet Satiniramai, acting permanent secretary at the Health Ministry, said yesterday.

"The condition of the Mers patient is better overall," he said. "The chest X-rays show improvement and he can eat soft food." AFP, Reuters

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'No new Mers cases in South Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe