Reported cases declining; WHO team starts working
By Jung Min-ho
Is the worst of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) over?
It is difficult to tell for sure but there are some signs.
Health and Welfare Minister Moon Hyung-pyo said Tuesday that the number of new cases appears to be declining.
Eight were confirmed that day, representing a significant drop from the 23 on Monday.
The ministry reported a seventh death from the deadly virus; and the total number of MERS patients at 95.
Since May 20, when a man was diagnosed with MERS for the first time here, the number of new patients has increased steadily until it spiked from six to 22 on Sunday. The dramatic fall in the number may be a sign of it abating.
Yet the public confidence in Moon is weak; he falsely predicted that the virus had “little risk” of spreading further when the first patient was confirmed, and, when the number kept rising, he repeatedly said the nation’s reaction to the disease was “exaggerated.”
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has started its five-day mission to unravel the mystery of the epidemic, which has shown unusual patterns of development here.
In cooperation with the ministry, a team of international experts in epidemiology, virology and clinical management will look into the epidemiological pattern, the characteristics and clinical features of the virus.
During a press conference at the government complex in Sejong, Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security at WHO, said that his team looks forward to helping the country cope with “a tremendous amount of difficulties” caused by MERS.
“We have already been in close contact with experts here,” he said. “We look forward to engaging and getting started now.”
Vice Minister Jang Ok-joo said the results of the joint team’s investigation will be made public, though the details of its daily schedule will not be disclosed.
“We have yet to see any transmissions through casual, daily contact among people outside hospitals. Nonetheless, global concerns over the possible spread of the virus are rising,” she said. “I would like to thank the WHO for cooperating with Korea to fight MERS.”
“I hope the joint team will produce something useful at the end.”
The team plans to visit Pyeongtaek St. Mary’s Hospital in Gyeonggi Province, where the first patient stayed and spread the virus, as well as other MERS-hit hospitals and quarantine facilities.
The team will also assess the public health response efforts and provide recommendations to the ministry.
The ministry announced Saturday that no genetic mutation in the MERS virus was found in Korea after conducting analyses of samples.
Yet some infectious disease experts remain unconvinced because of the wide and continued spread of the virus, which is “highly unusual” compared with the situation in 23 other countries dealing with MERS.