Top Stories


    Jun 18, 2015

    S. Korean Mers outbreak is a 'wake-up call' to the world


    SOUTH Korea yesterday announced its 20th death from the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) virus while the World Health Organisation (WHO) described the outbreak in the country as a "wake-up" call to the world, warning that diseases now spread quickly with globalisation and that higher vigilance is needed.

    A 54-year-old woman died of Mers yesterday morning in Seoul after being diagnosed on June 5, South Korea's Health Ministry said.

    It also reported eight new patients, including four who had been infected at Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul, considered the epicentre of the outbreak.

    This took the total number of infections, including those who have died, to 162, the largest outbreak outside Saudi Arabia.

    Meanwhile, criticism has grown against the government, following alarming reports of new cases slipping through a quarantine that is keeping more than 6,500 in isolation.

    "We are concerned whether (Health Minister) Moon Hyung Pyo...will ever be able to get the situation under control," said the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper.

    In Geneva, following an emergency committee meeting hosted by the WHO, Keiji Fukuda, assistant director of the United Nations agency, told reporters that the South Korean outbreak, which emerged almost a month ago, "really took everybody by surprise".

    The meeting concluded that a lack of awareness about the virus among health workers and the public was one major contributing factor in its rapid spread.

    Other factors included keeping Mers patients in crowded emergency rooms for long periods, and the practice in South Korea of going to multiple hospitals for diagnoses and treatment, so-called "doctor shopping".

    The custom of having many visitors or family members staying with infected patients in hospital rooms also facilitated the spread of the virus.

    However, unlike Ebola, Mers is not considered "a public health emergency of international concern", the committee concluded, adding that no travel or trade restrictions were warranted.