Government efforts to contain the further spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are facing a roadblock, as it is struggling to locate people who came into contact with a patient confirmed with the disease over the weekend.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), Tuesday, the patient, 61, who took a three-week business trip to Kuwait, was confirmed to have been infected with MERS coronavirus (CoV), Saturday, a day after he arrived in Korea on Emirates Airline flight EK 322. Passengers aboard the plane included 115 foreigners.
Including the passengers, a total of 408 people came into direct or indirect contact with the man. Another 21 who came into close contact _ within approximately two meters from the patient according to the World Health Organization (WHO) definition _ have been quarantined at home or state-designated facilities.
The remaining 387 people were instructed to voluntarily report to the health authorities immediately if they experience MERS symptoms such as a fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
The KCDC said of the 115 foreigners, it is trying to find out the whereabouts of nearly 50, while the others have been located and are under observation.
“We are in close cooperation with the Ministry of Interior and Safety, the National Police Agency (NPA), and immigration offices to secure their contact points in Korea,” KCDC said.
The NPA said if it receives a request from the KCDC to locate the 50 foreigners, it would review surveillance camera recordings at Incheon International Airport and other spaces to trace them.
When a foreigner is located, police officers and health authority officials will be dispatched together to the place where the person is staying.
The KCDC also initially failed to find passengers of a taxi which the confirmed patient used from the airport to the Samsung Medical Center, as the taxi driver first said he did not take any other passengers afterward.
But the authorities found, through credit card payment records, at least 23 people used the taxi afterward. They secured the telephone numbers of the passengers and are contacting them.
Meanwhile, the KCDC said suspected MERS patients will be allowed to stay at home instead of being quarantined at a hospital or other state-designated facilities.
The measure is a part of a revision to an earlier guideline that required a strict separation and isolation of suspected patients to better contain the virus spread.
Under the revised rule, suspected patients are able to stay at home or other isolated settings equipped with proper ventilation and unshared toilet and bathroom.
They are allowed to stay like this as long as they remain in communication with the health authorities.
The eased rule will be applied to those who did not come into close contact with the confirmed patient under the WHO definition, and those who show no acute respiratory symptoms.