The World Health Organisation is not recommending travel bans or airport screenings in the battle to prevent the wider spread of the MERS virus, which has now killed 14 people in South Korea.The major Seoul hospital at the centre of the latest outbreak of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has suspended all non-emergency surgery, ABC News reported yesterday.
South Korea’s health ministry reported seven new cases on Sunday, taking the total number of cases to 145 since the lethal disease was first diagnosed in Korea on 20 May 2015.
The 14 people who have died are said to have been elderly people, or people who were already ill.
Alison Clements-Hunt, WHO’s spokesperson in Manila, told Al Jazeera news service that most cases of MERS had occurred in hospitals or healthcare facilities, where patients carrying the virus came in direct or close contact with another person.
She told the agency that unless people had close contact with a sufferer, it was unlikely they would catch MERS.
“The World Health Organisation does not recommend a travel ban,” Hunt said. Neither did it actively recommend screening measures at airports, she added.
It was advisable, however, for governments to be able to identify whether travellers had arrived from a country where MERS was “actively circulating”.
Most cases are in the Middle East or Korea.
Hunt added that no current evidence suggested the MERS virus was airborne. Evidence indicated it spread by droplets.
Countries should remain vigilant, she said.
Health authorities in the Middle East and beyond are anxious to bring MERS under control before the next Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia begins in September 2015. That’s when millions of Muslim pilgrims from around the world stream towards Mecca and later return home, with airlines putting on extra flights to cater for them.
Written by Peter Needham