Thai PM calls for calm over Mers case

An officer disinfecting seats on a Thai Airways flight in Bangkok yesterday, after the kingdom confirmed its first Mers case.
An officer disinfecting seats on a Thai Airways flight in Bangkok yesterday, after the kingdom confirmed its first Mers case. PHOTO: EPA

Disease control measures in place, says government

BANGKOK - Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has asked Thais not to panic after the health authorities confirmed the first case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) in the kingdom in a 75-year- old businessman from Oman who travelled to Bangkok as a medical tourist.

"(The man) is from a Middle Eastern country. The (test) results confirmed that he has Middle East respiratory syndrome," said Thai Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin, adding that 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 the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi province on the outskirts of the Thai capital yesterday morning.

Dr Rajata said that besides the man and his three family members, two taxi drivers and dozens of medical staff and personnel the man had come into contact with have also been quarantined.

Passengers seated two rows in front of and behind him have also been contacted by health officials, Dr Rajata added.

The ministry did not disclose what airline the man flew in on.

"We are confident that we can control the outbreak," government spokesman Sunsern Kaewkamnerd said in a statement. He added that "disease control" measures were in place.

He said the Prime Minister had advised people to follow the information given out by the Ministry of Public Health to safeguard themselves against the disease.

Earlier, Thailand's Disease Control Department said it was screening travellers at 67 points of entry into the country. "We are checking 67 ports, including land, sea and air," said Mr Sophon Mekthon, secretary-general of Thailand's Disease Control Department.

"We have told all hospitals in Thailand to be on alert. Those who come back from the Middle East and South Korea must be checked thoroughly," he added.

Earlier yesterday, World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Margaret Chan expressed guarded optimism over South Korea's ability to contain the Mers outbreak in the country. The organisation had earlier described the spread of the disease as a "wake-up call".

"Our current assessment of the Mers situation in South Korea... is the government is now on a very good footing," she told reporters in Seoul, 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 Ms Chan, who is in South Korea for a previously scheduled conference.

She said 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.

Ms Chan's comments came as South Korea's Health Ministry reported three more deaths and three more cases.

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

According to an earlier WHO statement, Mers cases have been reported in four Asian countries before Thailand - South Korea, China, the Philippines and Malaysia - since the virus first surfaced in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

More than 6,700 people were being held in quarantine in South Korea yesterday, in a bid to halt the spread of the virus. Around 4,500 others have already been released from isolation.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2015, with the headline 'Thai PM calls for calm over Mers case'. Print Edition | Subscribe