Park slams Seoul govt's response to Mers cases

Park slams Seoul govt's response to Mers cases
Hospital workers tend to a woman on a stretcher, who is believed to be infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), in a quarantine area set up in a hospital in Seoul, South Korea

A 58-year-old South Korean woman suspected of contracting Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) has died, as President Park Geun Hye criticised the government's poor initial response and urged officials to go all out to contain the spread of the virus.

The woman, who had physical contact with the first confirmed patient, was admitted to a hospital in Gyeonggi province and died of symptoms similar to Mers yesterday afternoon, according to health officials.

An investigation is being planned to determine her exact cause of death.

As of yesterday, there were 18 confirmed Mers cases in South Korea - the highest outside the Middle East - and one in China.

The Chinese authorities are still trying to locate 10 people who had contact with a 44-year- old South Korean man who brought Mers into the country, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

He is being treated at a hospital in the southern city of Huizhou and the health authorities said he is in a stable condition.

There are now 67 people quarantined in China - including three who were tracked down yesterday - and 18 in Hong Kong.

Those in China had travelled on the same bus as the South Korean man, while those in Hong Kong were seated near him on a flight from Seoul.

South Korea's Health Ministry came under fire yesterday for its slow response to the first case reported on May 20 and for failing to contain the outbreak.

More than 680 people who had close contact with Mers patients, including medical staff, have been isolated and are being kept under observation.

In a regular meeting with her aides, Ms Park said that the government's initial response was "insufficient" and stressed the need to step up efforts to prevent infectious diseases from spreading, especially across borders.

She asked for a joint task force to be set up, so as to "find the reason for the high rate of transmission".

The government has since imposed a temporary ban on people who have been exposed to Mers leaving the country.

Health and Welfare Minister Moon Hyung Pyo has apologised for the Mers outbreak.

He also said this week would be a "critical turning point" for Mers - seeing whether it will continue to spread or subside.

All the cases detected so far are linked to Patient Zero - a 68-year-old man who tested positive for Mers on May 20, after a trip to Bahrain.

Of the three latest cases reported yesterday, two were patients in the same hospital as Patient Zero.

The third person came into contact with Patient Zero while caring for his hospitalised parent.

First identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, Mers is a respiratory disease that spreads through close contact and causes flu-like symptoms.

In severe cases, it can cause respiratory failure.

There is no treatment or vaccine for the disease. Mers has infected more than 1,100 people and killed more than 400, mostly in the Middle East.

changmc@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 2, 2015.
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