12 December 2018
Passengers walk past a thermal imaging camera at Incheon International Airport in South Korea. Photo: Reuters
Passengers walk past a thermal imaging camera at Incheon International Airport in South Korea. Photo: Reuters

HK tightens MERS watch after Korean came away undetected

Quarantine officials are tightening inspections after a South Korean man suspected to be infected with the MERS virus was intercepted in Hong Kong airport. 

The 32-year-old man is under quarantine in Lady MacLehose Holiday Village, a temporary government isolation facility in Sai Kung district.  

Eighteen other suspected MERS cases are being held in the facility, Ming Pao Daily reported Tuesday.

MERS is short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, a deadly flu-like disease first reported in 2012 and mostly linked to Saudi Arabia. 

Last week, the man was on the same Asiana Airlines flight from Incheon as a 44-year-old Korean passenger who went undetected as he transited Hong Kong en route to Guangdong province where he later fell ill of suspected MERS infection. He was taken to a hospital in Huizhou.

The younger man was traveling back to Hong Kong on Monday when he was stopped by health authorities.

He and the 18 other people under quarantine in Lady MacLehose Holiday Village have been exposed to the Huizhou patient, the report said, citing Hong Kong health authorities.   

In South Korea, the government bars anyone with MERS symptoms from leaving the country after it confirmed new cases, bringing the total to 25. 

On Tuesday, it reported the first two deaths from the outbreak, according to Reuters.

President Park Geun-hye criticized South Korean health officials for their response to the outbreak, saying they failed to provide information about potential cases to each other and to their counterparts overseas.

Leung Ting-hung, director of  Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection (CHP), said the agency decided to step up preemptive measures immediately after evidence the latest suspected case was likely exposed to MERS.

The man was seated a few rows from the Huizhou patient during last week’s flight, Leung said.   

Test results have yet to be released.

Leung said all inbound travelers who have a fever or have visited any Seoul hospital will be treated as potential MERS carriers and required to undergo testing.

The procedure is similar to those given to travelers from the Middle East.

Dr. Ho Pak-leung, a microbiologist in the University of Hong Kong, said there have been loopholes in South Korea’s disease control efforts and called the failure of South Korean authorities to share information “unbelievable”.

On Monday, the Hospital Authority announced mandatory virus tests for people who have been to MERS-affected areas in the preceding two weeks and who develop a fever or respiratory symptoms.

Also, anyone who enters a hospital emergency room is required to wear a sterile mask.  

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