Mon, Jun 01, 2015 - Page 5 News List

S Korea apologizes for MERS outbreak

PATIENT ZERO:The current spread has been traced to a 68-year-old man, who was diagnosed with the disease on May 20 after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia

AFP and AP, BEIJING and SEOUL, South Korea

South Korean Minister of Health and Welfare Moon Hyung-pyo, left, speaks at a news conference to announce measures to prevent the further spread of Middle East respiratory syndrome at the government complex in Seoul yesterday.

Photo: AP

South Korea’s health minister apologized yesterday for failing to halt an outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus, vowing “utmost efforts” to curb the spread of the disease, as the number infected rose to 15.

Hong Kong authorities quarantined 18 fellow passengers of a South Korean man who brought the virus to the territory.

Hong Kong health authorities on Saturday said the 18 are quarantined in the Lady MacLehose Holiday Village resort in a remote part of Hong Kong for two weeks. They were seated within two rows of the South Korean man, but have not shown any symptoms so far.

Another 17 people are under medical surveillance. Hong Kong authorities were asking other passengers of Asiana Airlines Flight 723 to contact them.

“We apologize for causing concern and anxiety among people due to ... our initial judgment on the contagiousness of MERS,” South Korean Minister for Health and Welfare Moon Hyung-pyo told reporters.

Moon added this week would be a “critical period” to contain the spread of MERS, which can cause symptoms ranging from flu-like aches and pains to pneumonia and kidney failure.

“We are making our utmost efforts to prevent the further spread of the disease,” Moon said, urging the public not to panic.

Health officials have come under fire for allowing an infected man to travel to China despite warnings from doctors. The 44-year-old left on a business trip on Tuesday, a day after his father was diagnosed with the virus, and was confirmed on Friday to have been infected himself.

The man flew to Hong Kong before traveling by bus to the Chinese city of Huizhou, where he is receiving treatment under quarantine.

Dozens of people — including his colleagues and passengers who sat near him on the same flight — have been or are expected to be examined or quarantined.

The current outbreak has been traced to a 68-year-old man diagnosed on May 20 after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia.

The 14 others who acquired the virus were patients in the same hospital as the man, their relatives or hospital staff with whom he came into contact.

Moon said the hospital where the first outbreak was reported has been closed and all patients were being treated in quarantine, but would not disclose its name or location for fear of spreading panic.

MERS is considered a deadlier, but less infectious cousin of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which killed hundreds of people when it appeared in Asia in 2003.

A total of 129 people who were exposed directly or indirectly to the patients have been quarantined or put under special observation so far.

“A far greater number” are to be quarantined or put under observation this week, as more people were diagnosed with the disease over the weekend, health officials said.

More than 20 countries have been affected by the virus with no known cure or vaccine, with most cases in Saudi Arabia, where more than 400 have been killed since 2012. South Korea’s outbreak of MERS is the largest among countries outside the Middle East.

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