Malaysia starts Mers screenings at all entry points

Passengers passing through a Mers health checkpoint at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport on Sunday. Thermal scanners have been set up to screen visitors from the seven affected nations.
Passengers passing through a Mers health checkpoint at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport on Sunday. Thermal scanners have been set up to screen visitors from the seven affected nations.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia has stepped up health screenings at all entry points into the country, after the first case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) was reported in neighbouring Thailand last week.

Malaysia, which shares a 650km land border with Thailand, has already begun monitoring body temperatures of people arriving at the airports, Deputy Health Minister Hilmi Yahaya said in a statement to state news agency Bernama.

"Now, we are going further to include all entry points," he said.

Visitors entering the country would also be briefed on precautions to take to avoid being infected with the disease, the minister said in the statement. There have so far been no cases of Mers reported in Malaysia.

Thailand said yesterday it had no new cases. Its health ministry said the number of people exposed to its only case of Mers is now down to 163, from 175 people over the weekend, upon closer examination of the circumstances.

South Korea, which has been dealing with the largest outbreak of Mers outside Saudi Arabia, reported yesterday two more deaths, bringing the number of fatalities to 27.

The health ministry in Seoul also confirmed three new cases yesterday, taking the total to 172. The latest fatalities were of patients in their 80s with pre-existing health problems.

Most schools that had shut two weeks ago as fear grew about the possible spread of the virus outside hospitals were reopened yesterday, with just six remaining closed, according to the Education Ministry in Seoul.

The outbreak in South Korea has been traced to a 68-year-old man who returned from a trip to the Middle East early last month and sought medical help at different hospitals before being diagnosed with the Mers virus.

In Thailand, the lone Mers patient, a 75-year-old man from Oman who had travelled to Bangkok for treatment of a heart condition, is recovering at an infectious diseases institute in central Nonthaburi province.

He is now able to eat and reportedly has no fever, Dr Wachira Pengjuntr, Thai Deputy Permanent Secretary for Public Health, said yesterday.

Dr Wachira assured a news conference that Thailand has had no new Mers cases. "Overall, we are able to control the virus and the risk is lower," he said.

Thailand is a popular hub for medical tourism, with around 1.4 million visitors travelling there for healthcare each year.

The Public Health Ministry yesterday instructed hospitals that cater to foreign patients not to accept people wanting to come from overseas for medical treatment unless they first test negative for Mers, the Bangkok Post reported.

Thailand has stepped up screening for Mers at Suvarnabhumi Airport to include all passengers from the seven countries where infections have been confirmed. About 30,000 travellers per day will have to pass inspection checkpoints before entering Thailand, the Nation reported.

The seven countries are Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Jordan and South Korea.

Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin said passengers found to have a fever as they go through the screening area would be quarantined and transferred to hospital.

Other passengers would be asked for contact details for further monitoring.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2015, with the headline 'Malaysia starts Mers screenings at all entry points'. Subscribe