Patients travelling from MERS-affected countries for medical services in Thailand, through agency arrangements, will be required to undergo tests for the virus one week ahead of their entry.
"The screening measure is part of efforts to control the spread of MERS," Dr Supamit Chunsuttiwat of the Disease Control Department said yesterday.
Records show Thailand receives more than a million medical visits from foreigners each year.
Authorities believe the MERS situation in Thailand is under control. There has been just one confirmed case of Middle East respiratory syndrome and this man from Oman is recovering. "Authorities have successfully contained the infection and no new case was found of a MERS situation in Thailand," Public Health Ministry deputy permanent secretary Wachira Pengjuntr said.
He added there were 163 people on the MERS watch list as they had had contact with the Omani patient.
"The number has dropped from 176 a day earlier because 13 of them have left the country," he explained.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Wachira said the condition of the sole MERS patient in Thailand was improving. He had no fever and was able to eat by himself; three of his relatives had shown no illness. The test results of three relatives have not confirmed the infection but they were all quarantined in the standard disease-control facility at Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute.
Disease Control Department deputy director Opart Karnkawinpong said the department had found 163 people who had had contact with the patient, and the |conditions of all of them had been monitored at their residences for 14 days.
Wachira saida; "We have successfully contained the disease in Thailand and there is only a small chance of wide infection. The situation in South Korea also has been improving as no new cases were identified [yesterday] and the number of people who had contact with the infected had dropped to around 4,000 from 6,000 a day earlier."
Despite the good signs, he said the Public Health Ministry would continue to enforce strict disease-control measures.
"Private hospitals have been instructed to follow the disease-control procedures strictly according to the Communicable Diseases Act 1980. If they find a suspected MERS case, they have to inform the Public Health Ministry immediately," he said.
He also said the ministry had discussed with the Defence Ministry, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and other relevant agencies plans to cope with a possible outbreak in the future.
"More disease-control facilities will be allocated, as currently the ministry can quarantine only around 100-200 people who have had close contact with a MERS patient. We are discussing with the Army and private hospitals how to facilitate these people if there is a contagious-disease outbreak in the future," he said.
He said new regulations to oblige people who have had contact with a patient to enter the disease monitoring was also being considered. If the new regulations pass, anyone who avoids disease quarantine will face legal punishment.
Health Service Support Department director-general Dr Boonruang Triruangworawat said hospitals could not deny treatment to walk-in patients even if they were suspected of having MERS.
He said that during the past week, at least two private hospitals were found to have flagged taxis and sent suspected patients on to Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute simply because they came from MERS-hit countries.
"We have issued warnings to the staff of these two hospitals because such actions are against the law," he said.