Mers not an emergency now

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Mers not an emergency now

Despite a fatality rate of more than half and mounting cases of the disease, the World Health Organisation has labelled the deadly SARS-like coronavirus as not a “public health emergency of health concern”.

By Staff Reporter

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Published: Sat 20 Jul 2013, 1:56 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 6:44 PM

The so-called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, being referred to as Mers, has been detected in another six people — four in the UAE and two in Saudi Arabia, it was revealed on Thursday. That brings the total cases worldwide to 88, with the vast majority in Saudi Arabia, where the first victim died from the illness in June last year.

WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the organisation held an emergency committee meeting on Wednesday during which it was decided to not issue travel restrictions on account of the illness, as Muslims across the world gear up for the annual pilgrimmage to Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia in October, for Haj.

“They’re not saying this is unimportant, they’re not saying we can now just move on to other things,” said Fukuda, pressed on the decision not to declare an emergency.

“There’s clearly a concern out there about this (but) if the director-general goes ahead and declares an emergency, is it going to be helpful?” A panel of health experts began urgent talks about Mers on July 9 amid concerns about larger numbers of milder infections possibly going undetected.

“Based on these views and the currently available information, the (WHO) Director-General (Margaret Chan) accepted the committee’s assessment that the current Mers-CoV situation is serious and of great concern, but does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern at this time,” the WHO said in a statement.

There is also mounting concerns over health workers’ safety, with five of the six new cases occurring in health workers, and the other a man who had been in close contact with someone who had been infected with the disease.

The four new cases in the UAE come as a result of widespread testing after the first case of the virus was detected in the country last week. The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (Haad) tested 136 people for the illness, after the Abu Dhabi man fell sick.

The four new victims were all in a stable condition but were being kept in isolation, according to the government news agency Wam. Two of the new coronavirus cases in Abu Dhabi and both cases in Saudi Arabia displayed mild symptoms. The other two in Abu Dhabi had no symptoms of the disease.

Of the total 88 confirmed cases of Mers, there have been 45 deaths from the disease, which appears to mostly affect the elderly, sick or vulnerable the most.

The virus does not seem to be overly contagious, with a low rate of contraction.

On July 13, Saudi health authorities urged the elderly and chronically ill, as well as children and pregnant women, not to perform the Haj.

Officials in France, which has a large Muslim community, meanwhile, said they had been informed that such individuals would not get Saudi visas. Fukuda said that such moves were a national matter, but the WHO would organise general travel recommendations.

“We do recognise that this is a risk for travellers and that there are certain steps that individual travellers and countries can take, for example for people who have serious medical conditions,” he told reporters. The UAE Ministry of Health (MOH) stated that it is following all the latest updates regarding the new virus with the World Health Organisation (WHO). It upheld the view the virus was not a concern for public health at the moment as the detected cases globally continued to be very low.

It reiterated no travel ban was required, nor screenings at different ports, or restrictions on trade. It praised the cooperation and coordination among all the health authorities in the country to follow up the health situation and safeguard public health.

Experts are struggling to understand Mers, for which there is no vaccine. It is a cousin of SARS, which erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine per cent of whom died.

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