MERS cases delay opening of Samsung hospital

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MERS cases delay opening of Samsung hospital

Samsung Medical Center, the second ground zero for the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in Korea, is extending its partial shutdown indefinitely as new infections continue to be reported from its emergency ward.

The central MERS countermeasure headquarters under the Ministry of Health and Welfare said Wednesday that Samsung Medical Center, which was supposed to end its partial shutdown Thursday, is going to be kept closed.

“About the extension, we haven’t exactly set the length,” said Kwon Deok-cheol, general director of the countermeasure headquarters, on Wednesday. “The government’s immediate response team at the hospital will make a decision after assessing the situation, and the hospital will decide whether to accept the offer.”

The extension of quarantine measures at one of the country’s best hospitals follows the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s announcement of four new MERS cases on Wednesday.

One was a 50-year-old female, Patient No. 177, who was treated at Samsung Medical Center’s emergency room from May 27 to 29. That is where Patient No. 14 infected more than 80 people.

The total number of MERS cases reached 179 as of Wednesday. With no additional fatalities on Wednesday, the death toll remains at 27, which gives the outbreak a fatality rate of 15.1 percent.

The general hospital previously decided to partially close until June 25. No new patients were accepted at the emergency ward, outpatients were not allowed and operations were performed only in emergency situations.

Thursday was going to be the reopening because it is 15 days since Patient No. 137, an emergency ward aide, worked at the hospital on June 10.

The latency period for the disease was supposed to be 14 days, and Patient No. 137 was considered the last infectious person in the emergency ward.

But a few patients have tested positive for MERS more than 14 days after exposure. And at least one patient who contracted MERS at Samsung Medical Center has been announced every single day since Patient No. 35, a doctor at the hospital, was confirmed for MERS on June 4, except for June 20 when no confirmed cases were reported.

Patient No. 177 is proving to be a mystery. She was confirmed a full 25 days after she was at the Samsung Medical Center. But the health authorities explained that she had tuberculosis, and she may have exhibited MERS symptoms much earlier but they were confused with her underlying condition.

Since the virus continues to spread, the health authorities retracted their previous statement that the outbreak was letting up and decided to strengthen quarantine measures at some other hospitals. Konkuk University Medical Center and Hallym University Medical Center in Seoul took the same measure as Samsung Medical Center on Wednesday.

“Konkuk University Medical Center is partially closed because Patient No. 76 once visited,” Kwon said.

Patient No. 76, who died on June 10, is considered a super-spreader.

BY KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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