The public Health Ministry yesterday announced the first MERS case in Thailand after laboratory tests confirmed that a foreign visitor had contracted the deadly virus, Dr Prasert Thongcharoen, the ministry's senior adviser, said.
Dr Prasert, who is also chairman of Thailand's expert panel on virology and epidemics, said the patient was understood to have contracted Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in a foreign country, before arriving in Thailand, where he was diagnosed.
The patient, a 75-year-old man from an Arab country, has reportedly had contact with up to 59 people since arriving on Monday. He was also undergoing treatment for heart-related symptoms at a private hospital in Bangkok.
The patient, who is in a stable condition, has been quarantined in a special unit at Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi since yesterday.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha called on the public to not panic but stay alert, adding the government is confident of its ability to contain the disease.
An urgent ministry regulation was published in the Royal Gazette yesterday, in which MERS was categorised as one of the 22 contagious diseases that have to be reported to public health or authorities upon contraction.
Earlier, there were rumours of MERS cases in Roi-Et and other places in Thailand, but health authorities dismissed them as groundless.
The Public Health Ministry has also stepped up its surveillance of suspected MERS cases and held a teleconference with all provincial health authorities nationwide yesterday to beef up measures in response to the possible spread of the virus.
So far, the authorities have focused on people who could have been exposed to the disease, especially those who have recently been in at-risk countries such as South Korea and Middle Eastern nations.
Dr Opas Karnkavinpong, deputy director-general of the Disease Control Department, said the surveillance system had been strictly enforced and all potential victims had undergone laboratory tests, and those results would be known within one day.
Agence France-Presse said South Korea reported three more deaths from MERS yesterday, bringing the number of fatalities there to 23 and amplifying fears that authorities do not have the outbreak under control after the World Health Organisation criticised their response.
Three more cases were also confirmed yesterday, despite authorities saying earlier in the week that South Korea had weathered the worst of the crisis. The number of infections now stands at 165, in what is the largest outbreak of MERS outside Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, Thai Airways International said it was waiving rescheduling fees for customers who are unable to travel to Korea because of the outbreak, until July 31.
Wiwat Piyawiroj, THAI vice president for sales and distribution for Thailand and Indochina, said the measure was aimed at addressing concerns over passenger safety and convenience.
The fee has been waived for changes to flights and routing of round-trip THAI tickets for Bangkok-Seoul and Bangkok-Busan. This also covers tickets for flights issued before June 8 for travel to Seoul or Busan between now and July 31.
However, tickets must have been booked at a THAI ticketing office.