Thailand has confirmed its first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) following travel warnings issued against South Korea by Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau, as that nation struggles to limit the number of cases of the deadly disease, which takes an estimated 40% of the lives it touches.
CNN notes that Thai Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin reported the first case on Thursday, one unrelated to the contaminations in South Korea. The man diagnosed had traveled to an unidentified Middle Eastern country on June 15. Reuters claims the man is a businessman from Oman, meaning possibly this is where he contracted the disease. “The patient came to us tired, coughing … there was no fever,” a doctor working at the hospital treating the man explained, “So we X-rayed his chest… we found that he could have two things, a heart condition or the MERS virus.”
The MERS virus, believed to have originated in Saudi Arabia and first identified there in 2012, has also surfaced in Europe. A man died in Germany in June after suffering complications from MERS, becoming the first death by the disease in Europe. The Czech Republic has also isolated a man diagnosed with potentially having the disease.
The nation most affected by MERS cases, however, is South Korea, where 166 people have been diagnosed with the disease and 24 have died. The nation is currently attempting to curb the outbreak, which can be traced back to one patient who returned from Saudi Arabia infected. The nation announced on Friday that only one new case had been diagnosed in the last 24 hours, a glimmer of hope that the nation has begun to contain cases. The government did also announce a new death, however, that of a 75-year-old “who was undergoing treatment at a hospital,” but noted that they had begun to believe “the spread of the disease is now on the decline.” 800 people were taken out of isolation between Thursday and Friday, diminishing the number quarantined to 5,930.
International coverage of the MERS virus has significantly affected South Korea’s economy, and tourists cancel vacations out of fear of catching the disease. Seoul, the nation’s capital, has been described as a “ghost town” in the wake of news of MERS, as individuals stay home attempting to avoid contact with others. Restaurants, shops, and various businesses are reporting a significant decline in income.
In response, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has apologized to the Korean people for the government’s inability to end the outbreak yet, telling legislators in a speech that he felt “sorry as a newly-appointed prime minister for the insufficiency in the government’s initial response.”
Meanwhile, in the most bizarre twist in this story so far, the communist government of North Korea has interrupted pleas for help with a devastating drought with the claim that they have invented an injection that cures MERS. “As a strong immune-activator, the injection has been recognized to prevent different malignant epidemics,” claimed North Korean state media of a product called “Kumdang-2,” allegedly made of ginseng and other “rare earth elements.”