Medical tourists from Mers-hit nations must test for Mers before travelling to Thailand

Airport staffs wear protective masks against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) while on duty at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, Thailand.
Airport staffs wear protective masks against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) while on duty at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, Thailand. PHOTO: EPA

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Medical tourists from Mers-affected countries travelling to Thailand for medical services, through agency arrangements, will be required to undergo tests for the virus one week ahead of their entry.

"The screening measure is part of efforts to control the spread of Mers," Dr Supamit Chunsuttiwat of the Disease Control Department said on Monday.

Records show that Thailand receives more than a million medical visits from foreigners each year.

Authorities believe the Mers situation in Thailand is under control. There has been just one confirmed case of the virus and the patient - a man from Oman - is recovering.

"Authorities have successfully contained the infection and no new case was found," Public Health Ministry deputy permanent secretary Wachira Pengjuntr said.

He added that there were 163 people on the Mers watch list as they had had contact with the Omani patient.

"The number has dropped from 176 a day earlier because 13 of them have left the country," he explained.

Despite the good signs, Wachira said the Public Health Ministry would continue to enforce strict disease-control measures.

"Private hospitals have been instructed to follow the disease-control procedures strictly according to the Communicable Diseases Act 1980. If they find a suspected Mers case, they have to inform the Public Health Ministry immediately," he said.

He also said the ministry had discussed with the Defence Ministry, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and other relevant agencies plans to cope with a possible outbreak in the future.

"More disease-control facilities will be allocated, as currently the ministry can quarantine only around 100-200 people who have had close contact with a Mers patient. We are discussing with the army and private hospitals how to facilitate these people if there is a contagious-disease outbreak in the future," he said.

He said new regulations to oblige people who have had contact with a patient to enter the disease monitoring was also being considered. If the new regulations pass, anyone who avoids disease quarantine will face legal punishment.

Health Service Support Department director-general Dr Boonruang Triruangworawat said hospitals could not deny treatment to walk-in patients even if they were suspected of having Mers.

He said that during the past week, at least two private hospitals were found to have flagged taxis and sent suspected patients on to Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute simply because they came from Mers-hit countries.

"We have issued warnings to the staff of these two hospitals because such actions are against the law," he said.