77 come in contact with MERS patient in Guangdong

By Zhang Hui Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-1 0:28:02

Chance of MERS outbreak in China still relatively low: experts

Face masks are on display in a supermarket in Seoul, South Korea on Sunday. The number of people diagnosed with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in South Korea has reached 15. Photo: IC

The number of people who came in contact with the South Korean man diagnosed with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) rose to 77 on Sunday in Guangdong Province, but doctors believe the possibility of a mass outbreak is still relatively low.

The Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan are paying close attention to the spread of the disease, which brought back painful memories of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic that claimed several hundred lives in 2003.

As of Sunday, the number of people who had been in close contact with the patient rose to 77 in Guangdong. Among them, 64 have been quarantined while 13 others, including 11 passengers on a bus boarded by a South Korean man who had been diagnosed with the disease, have remained out of contact. None of the quarantined has shown any abnormality.

The Huizhou Municipal Central Hospital, which received the first MERS patient at its ICU, entered into an emergency state on Friday. According to the Guangzhou Daily, unmarried medical workers at the hospital have to "draw lots" to decide who will be assigned to the ICU team, while married workers were ordered to stand by.

On Friday, a South Korean man became China's first confirmed MERS patient.

He flew to Hong Kong on Tuesday after ignoring travel warnings and lied to a nurse at the health checkpoint about his condition.

MERS is a respiratory illness caused by a new type of coronavirus. The first case was identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. There is no vaccine or treatment for the disease, which has a fatality rate of 40.7 percent, based on World Health Organization (WHO) figures.

China has learned lessons and accumulated practical experience to deal with epidemics since the 2003 SARS outbreak, according to Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. "China's ability to deal with epidemics is now among the best in the world."

The country has established an effective emergency response plan for diseases like MERS, which includes collaboration between different government departments, and also introduced a law on prevention and treatment of infectious diseases in 2004, Zeng said. "Thus, there is little possibility of a MERS outbreak in China."

In Hong Kong, 18 people who came into contact with the South Korean man have been quarantined as of Sunday, including two South Korean women who had earlier refused to be isolated, according to the Hong Kong government.

Taiwan's health authority reported its first suspected MERS case on Saturday, and has made him undergo tests, China News Service reported.

Since the first MERS case was identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, China has trained its medical staff on tackling the disease and to closely monitor the health condition of people who return from the Middle East, Lu Hongzhou, Party secretary at the Public Health Clinic Center of Fudan University, who was among China's first batch of public health experts to go to Africa to deal with the Ebola outbreak, told the Global Times. 

Human-to-human transmission of the MERS virus is much lower than that of the SARS virus, Lu said.

However, Lu said he disapproves of Huizhou's "drawing of lots" scheme and said the hospital should allocate their most experienced medical staff.

Since Friday, there has been much criticism on the Internet over the poor initial response of the South Korean government, which failed to quarantine the patient who traveled to Hong Kong and then to Huizhou.

South Korea Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo on Sunday apologized publicly for their carelessness, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

The number of South Koreans infected with MERS rose to 15 on Sunday.

The WHO has reported more than 1,000 MERS cases globally and more than 400 deaths.

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