More than 80 exposed to Mers virus in Thailand

Not clear if all who came into contact with first patient have been traced

MORE than 80 people in Thailand have been exposed to the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) virus, the health authorities revealed, as the kingdom rushed to stem any panic from its first such case.

The deadly disease, which was first identified in Saudi Arabia three years ago, has killed 24 and infected 166 people in South Korea since it was detected there last month, although the authorities there said the outbreak appeared to be levelling off.

Singapore's Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday that travellers from Thailand were not being screened at Changi Airport for Mers symptoms as the country had only one such case and the situation was contained. He added, however, that developments were being monitored closely.

Thailand's Ministry of Public Health revealed that the Mers virus was detected in a 75-year-old man from Oman on Thursday. Yesterday evening, it said in a press statement that 85 people had come into contact with him.

It was not clear though whether all 85, including a taxi driver, airline passengers and medical staff, have been traced and quarantined.

The man landed in Bangkok on Monday and sought treatment that night at Bangkok's Bumrungrad International Hospital for a cough, later running a fever. The private hospital kept him and his relatives in isolation quarters before they were moved to the state-run Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute just outside Bangkok on Thursday.

The hospital called a press conference yesterday, saying it had quarantined 58 staff members.

Meanwhile, the Mers patient is "a little bit better", Dr Sopon Mekthon, director of the Health Ministry's disease control department, told The Straits Times. "He is out of the respirator."

Tests on the patient's two sons turned out negative yesterday.

Passengers at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport had to go through thermoscan machines yesterday and health warning cards were issued on flights connected to high-risk areas for Mers.

The airport is a major aviation hub for the region, while the city is one of the world's top tourism destinations.

Singaporeans, meanwhile, are not rushing to call off trips to Bangkok. Instead, they are monitoring the situation and are hopeful that it will not be a repeat of the South Korean case, travellers, travel agencies and airlines told The Straits Times. Hundreds of Singaporeans have cancelled their trips to South Korea.

Dynasty Travel has a number of clients going to the popular shopping destination over the National Day weekend. "We're keeping our fingers crossed," said its director of marketing communications Alicia Seah.

CTC Travel yesterday received some calls from concerned customers travelling to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. "They are still monitoring the situation as the departures are mainly in August and September," said a spokesman.

Graphic designer Jason Fu, 26, does not plan to cancel his two upcoming holidays to Bangkok next month and in September for now. "I'll wait and see. The public should not be paranoid," he said.

tanhy@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Melissa Lin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2015, with the headline 'More than 80 exposed to Mers virus in Thailand'. Print Edition | Subscribe