Phuket on alert for the MERS virus

PHUKET HEALTH officials ramped up efforts last week to identify passengers possibly carrying the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) to the island from South Korea or the Middle East, where the virus is spreading.

"We received an order from the Public Health Ministry in Bangkok to be on alert for the virus," Kajohnsak Kaewjarus, chief of the Phuket Provincial Health Organisation, said yesterday.

"We started checking passengers on June 9."

Six carriers flying into Phuket have flights departing from South Korea and the Middle East.

"Every traveller arriving from these destinations is being checked by the Disease Control Centre at Phuket International Airport," he said.

Airline crewmembers have also been asked to keep an eye out for any passengers showing signs of influenza and to notify officials upon arrival at the airport.

"Between Tuesday and Friday, we checked 3,900 passengers and found no MERS suspects," he said.

"We have strong countermeasures in place, which we introduced in 2013 when MERS first became a concern for the island."

The organisation first rolled out its MERS protocol in July 2013. It included isolation procedures and patient tracking, in case a person was positively identified for symptoms of MERS.

South Korea has identified 122 MERS cases. The outbreak killed nine people. It began last month when a 68-year-old man arrived back from the Middle East.