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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 13)

2018/09/13 07:02

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National alert for MERS

A still dreadful memory for the people is the shocking outbreak of the deadly virus causing Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2015 that killed 38 out of 186 infected patients and dealt a tremendous blow to the national economy, especially the tourism industry.

The dreadful disease resurfaced after three years last week with a 61-year-old Korean man confirmed to be infected with the virus after returning from Kuwait, putting the whole nation on special alert.

It cannot be overemphasized that the nation faces an emergency situation and the government and all parties concerned, including hospitals, ought to closely cooperate to prevent the spread of the disease that isolated or put under house quarantine 16,700 people who were in close contact with the quarantined patients in 2015.

However, consolation in the misfortune was the swift action of Samsung Medical Center, which was a dishonored hotbed of the MERS spread three years ago, to isolate and diagnose the man as being infected and move him to Seoul National University Hospital equipped exclusively to care for patients with the disease.

As was known in the wake of the first outbreak, the MERS virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days. So the first deadline for a possible spread of the disease is Sept. 21. So far, 22 people, confirmed to have had "close" contact with the man, including his wife, airport staff, cabin crew and medical staff members, have been put under house quarantine to be checked regularly. All the other 440 passengers on the same flight are being watched by the related local autonomous administrations.

But the health authorities should not rule out the possibility that there could be more people who contacted the patient because quarantine officials at Incheon International Airport let him go, even after he wrote on his arrival card that he had diarrhea 10 days earlier during his trip to the Middle Eastern country. He was free for about two-and-a-half hours until he arrived at Samsung Medical Center.

MERS has a fatality rate of more than 30 percent, and a cure has yet to be found. The best way, needless to say, is to prevent the spread. We should not forget the fact that MERS plagued the entire nation for seven months three years ago due to the failure to initially react.

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