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Thai PM Urges Public Calm as MERS Case Confirmed

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha at the Government House in Bangkok, Oct. 20, 2014.
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha at the Government House in Bangkok, Oct. 20, 2014.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is urging the public not to panic after the country confirmed its first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome - MERS.

"Please don't panic. We are taking care of this. If anyone has any doubt about their symptoms, please contact these hospitals. We have to help each other, and please be careful," he told reporters Friday.

A heart patient from Oman was confirmed Thursday as the first case of MERS in Thailand.

The Thai prime minister said the country was well prepared to handle the situation, based on its past experiences.

"Sixty-nine hospitals that are experienced in handling SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and bird flu are now taking care of MERS as well. They will check whether the medical staff, equipment are sufficient, and the readiness of the quarantine room," he said. "That's why we were able to identify [the man] this time because we have been building awareness all along."

A doctor at Bumrungrad International Hospital suspected the man might have MERS because he was from overseas, had a respiratory complaint and a low fever, officials told VOA.

Fifty-nine other people are being monitored for the virus either at hospitals or homes: passengers who sat two rows in front or behind the Omani man on his flight to Bangkok, health care workers, hotel employees and a taxi driver, according to Thanarath Phalipat, the director of the Health Ministry’s bureau of epidemiology.

In South Korea, MERS has killed at least 24 people with the number of known infections up to 165. Seoul officials insist the disease has peaked and is largely contained to medical facilities, but concerns are still mounting over what is the largest MERS outbreak outside the Middle East.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday said South Korean officials failed to implement sufficient measures to prevent the spread of the disease, for which there is no cure or vaccine.

Among the main factors the WHO cited as contributing to the outbreak were a lack of awareness about the disease among health care workers and inadequate infection prevention and control measures in hospitals.

But the Geneva-based organization said it does not consider the MERS outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

More than 6,700 people in South Korea have been placed in quarantine after having possibly come into contact with individuals infected with the disease.

Public alarm has been widespread, in part because of false online rumors and also because MERS symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath - all of which are typically associated with non-serious illnesses such as the common cold.