Thai government plays down MERS impact

SUCHAT SRITAMA - Finance Minister Sommai Phasee said the effect of the first Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) case recorded in Thailand will have a minimal impact on the economy and the Ministry of Public Health's high alert level regarding the deadly disease means that it will be able to contain it.

"It will not affect the economy that much. This is not bird flu and it does not appear to be affecting the tourism sector that much either," he commented yesterday.

"I believe that they [the ministry] will be able to contain it and things should be more calm in a month. But that is the Ministry of Public Health's assessment of the outbreak situation," he added.

Sommai said that if public fears were alleviated within a month the effect on the coming high tourist should be minimal as many tourists were still planning their holidays and there was still time to make travel arrangements.

"I believe the Ministry of Public Health has first, second and third-degree measures [to combat the spread of MERS] including introducing special insurance for patients as a last measure. That is not the case at the moment and I think the tourism sector is still doing well," he said.

Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, the Minister of Tourism and Sports, said MERs and the concerns about Thailand's aviation safety had not had a huge impact on the tourism sector in the short term as many foreign tourists had kept their plans to visit Thailand.

Last Friday an Omani man was confirmed as the first person in Thailand to be infection with MERS and is being treated in a hospital in Bangkok.

While last Thursday the International Civil Aviation Organisation "red-flagged" Thailand, meaning it has significant safety concerns over the country's aviation industry. This has led to fears about travelling on airlines registered in Thailand.

Preventative measures

But Kobkarn said: "Tourists are still coming and we haven't seen a cancellation from overseas regarding MERS and the aviation safety issue."

To deal with MERS, Kobkarn said the authorities were working with Suvarnabhumi International Airport on preventative measures.

The Ministry of Public Health |is monitoring the situation based |on the International Health Regulation standard while Suvarnabhumi Airport has installed thermoscan cameras at passengers gates E and F to monitor travellers from seven higher risk countries.

The ministry has also instructed hotels to look out for guests with possible MERS symptoms. Many hospitals have been asked to be ready to handle a MERS case(s).

According to Konkarn, a special medical team is ready to provide assistance for some 15,000 Thai Muslims expected to travel to the Middle East for Ramadan this month.

"The ministry is confident that Thailand can reach a tourism projection of 28.8 million arrivals and total income of Bt2.2 trillion (S$87.3 Billion) [this year]," she said.

Patee Sarasin, chief executive officer of Nok Air, said the airline's preventative MERS measures included screening passengers and customer service staff, monitoring passengers before check-in including medical checks if deemed necessary, and monitoring passengers during a flight.

He also said planes were sterilised before and after departure, while it also raised the awareness of MERS among it employees and provided them with ongoing up-to-date information about the situation.

"Safety is the first priority at Nok Air and we will not take any risks when it comes to our passengers. We will carry out all international-standard preventive measures to keep our passengers and crew safe," he added.

Nok Air implemented the |measures following the Ebola in 2014.

It is also working with the Ministry of Public Health to closely monitor the MERS situation.

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