PM Prayut pledges regional cooperation on MERS
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha pledged Thailand’s full cooperation with other nations in the region to prevent the spread of the MERS virus, as airport authorities stepped up screenings of passengers from countries where outbreaks have occurred.
Prime Minister Prayut made the pledge while attending a regional meeting in Myanmar with the leaders of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Thailand is the first country in Southeast Asia to record a confirmed case of MERS, or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, a potentially fatal infection, although several cases have been reported in South Korea and some other countries in North Asia.
The World Health Organization praised Thailand for taking swift action in responding to the MERS case. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen called on Thailand to provide technical assistance to his country and other countries in Southeast Asia on how to respond to the outbreak. Prime Minister Prayut made his pledge of cooperation after the request by Hun Sen.
Thailand has gained valuable experience over the past decade in surveillance, screening and response to epidemics because of the Avian Influenza and SARS crises. The Kingdom was also praised by the WHO at that time for its responses.
The MERS patient was a 75-year-old man from Oman who came to Thailand for medical treatment for a different problem and was diagnosed with MERS at a Thai hospital.
The patient has recovered and is now free of the MERS virus, according to doctors, and most people who came into contact with him have been notified and tested, although public health officials are trying to locate a handful of others they have not yet reached.
With between 10,000 and 16,000 Thai Muslims intending to travel to Saudi Arabia in July and September this year to perform the Haj, the traditional pilgrimage to holy sites in Mecca, Thai public health officials are already taking steps to prevent or protect pilgrims from contracting MERS while in the Middle East and bringing it back to Thailand.
The Tourism Minister asked six tour companies that typically help arrange the pilgrimage for local Muslims to work with public health officials to educate those they are servicing on how to protect themselves.
The Ministry of Public Health is asking the tour companies to submit the names of those who will travel to Saudi Arabia and the Ministry wants those pilgrims to attend a class where they will learn how to avoid being infected with MERS.
The threat of the virus is unlikely to deter pilgrims from making the journey, Thai authorities said, and so measures need to be taken to protect their health as best as possible.
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