BANGKOK/SEOUL - Thailand confirmed its first case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) yesterday, becoming the fourth Asian country to register the deadly virus this year.
Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin told a news conference that a 75-year-old businessman from Oman, who had travelled to Bangkok for medical treatment for a heart condition, had tested positive for Mers.
"From two lab tests, we can confirm that the Mers virus was found," Mr Rajata said. "The first day he came, he was checked for the virus. The patient... contracted the Mers virus."
The health minister said 59 others were being monitored for the virus, including three of the man's relatives who travelled with him to Bangkok.
Mers is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that triggered China's deadly 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).
The vast majority of Mers infections and deaths have been in Saudi Arabia, where more than 1,000 people have been infected since 2012, and about 454 have died.
Last month, a Mers outbreak erupted in South Korea, resulting in 23 deaths so far. A total of 165 people have been infected and 6,700 people are in quarantine.
The daily number of new cases has dropped to single digits this week compared to as many as 23 last week. Three were reported yesterday - the lowest number since June 1.
All of the infections known to have occurred in South Korea have taken place in healthcare facilities. Three hospitals have been at least partially shut and two have been locked down with patients and medical staff inside.
China and the Philippines have also reported one Mers case each this year. The Philippines reported its first Mers case when a pregnant nurse travelled home from Saudi Arabia in February.
China also registered a case when a South Korean man, the son of a patient in Seoul, was confirmed to have been infected after travelling to Huizhou, in Guangdong province, last month.
Experts in South Korea have criticised President Park Geun Hye's government for its response to the outbreak.
"There are doubts whether the quarantine and monitoring are being carried out thoroughly for the thousands of people who have been placed in isolation," said the vice-president of the Korean Medical Association, Dr Kang Cheong Hee. "The authorities must take tougher measures to make sure that both confirmed patients and suspected virus carriers do not mingle with other ordinary people."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE