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Virus not yet global emergency MERS clearance not compulsory for home-bound Pinoys

 LONDON, May 14, (RTRS): Concern about the deadly new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus has “significantly increased” but the disease does not yet constitute a global public health emergency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday.

The virus, which causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia, has been reported in more than 500 patients in Saudi Arabia alone and has spread to neighbouring countries and in a few cases, to Europe and Asia. It kills about 30 percent of those who are infected.

The WHO’s emergency committee, which met on Tuesday, said on Wednesday that based on current information, the seriousness of the situation had increased in terms of public health impact, but that there is no evidence of sustained humanto- human transmission of the virus. “The committee concluded that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have not yet been met,” the WHO said in a statement.

MERS is a virus from the same family as SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed around 800 people worldwide after it first appeared in China in 2002.

The Philippine Embassy in Kuwait issued an advisory to all Filipinos in Kuwait informing them that the Philippine government does not discriminate against Overseas Filipinos, or prevent anyone from returning to the Philippines in light of the rising cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in neighbouring GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The embassy advisory also clarified that there has been no official announcement on the need for a returning Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) from the Middle East to obtain medical clearances before going home to the Philippines.

The advisory was issued after the Department of Health (DOH) in Manila urged OFWs in the Middle East who have been tested for the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) to get a clearance first before returning to the Philippines. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not advised special screening at points of entry in relation to MERS-CoV. It has also not recommended any travel or trade restrictions.

The embassy urged Filipinos in Kuwait to stay put and avoid going out unnecessarily in order to minimize the risk of being infected. It adds that if symptoms of MERS-CoV manifest such as persistent coughing, fever, shortness of breath and even diarrhea, they have to go to the nearest clinic or hospital for immediate intervention.

The advisory also states that if they got in close contact with a confirmed MERS-CoV patient, they have to comply with local health regulations and postpone any trip abroad until after test results are negative. “Practice general hygiene such as washing the hands thoroughly, using hand sanitizers and avoid crowded places. As what we’ve earlier advised our nationals carry on with your normal activities,” stated Philippine Consul General Atty Raul H Dado. Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday five new deaths from MERS, raising the death toll in the country worst-hit by the mysterious coronavirus to 157 since it appeared in 2012.

The health ministry also reported 16 new infections with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome raising the total so far to 511. Three women, all over 60, died in Riyadh, while two men, aged 56 and 57, died in the port city of Jeddah, the ministry said on its website. Saudi Arabia accounts for by far the largest proportion of the 571 MERS cases worldwide reported to the World Health Organisation, 171 of which have proved fatal. MERS has also been found in 16 other countries but nearly all have among people from, or who had recently travelled to, the Gulf.

Research has identified camels as the likely original source of the virus and the Saudi agriculture ministry on Sunday urged camel handlers to wear masks and gloves. But a growing number of infections have been among health workers or fellow patients in hospitals treating MERS cases and the WHO called on Wednesday for improved infection control. Two healthcare workers at a Florida hospital that is caring for a Saudi patient with the dangerous MERS virus have tested negative for the illness, the hospital said Wednesday.

The two were “showing symptoms,” Dr. P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando said on Tuesday. One was hospitalized and the other was treated and discharged. But on Wednesday, a spokesman said they “have tested negative.” Eighteen other healthcare workers who came in contact with the patient have also been tested for the virus but those results have not yet been released, the hospital said in a statement. Symptoms of MERS can include fever, chills, cough and in serious cases, kidney failure.

The first patient, who fell ill in April, has been discharged from a hospital in Indiana. The second patient is still in isolation at Dr. P. Phillips hospital in Orlando, has been feverfree for 24 hours and is “doing well,” the hospital said.

A first case of the dangerous Middle East Respiratory Virus (MERS) has been detected in the Netherlands, in a man who had travelled to Saudi Arabia, authorities said Wednesday. “He was infected during a visit to Saudi Arabia and is being treated” in hospital in The Hague, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) said in a statement. The man was diagnosed on Tuesday and is being kept in strict isolation. His condition is stable, the RIVM said, adding that authorities are getting in touch with everyone he has been in contact with.


By: Michelle Fe Santiago Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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