South Korea cuts rates as MERS clouds outlook; 14 new cases

admin   •   June 11, 2015   •   2889

A tourist wearing a mask to prevent contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) uses her mobile phone at Myeongdong shopping district in central Seoul, South Korea, June 10, 2015. REUTERS/KIM HONG-JI

A tourist wearing a mask to prevent contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) uses her mobile phone at Myeongdong shopping district in central Seoul, South Korea, June 10, 2015.
REUTERS/KIM HONG-JI

An outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) forced South Korea to cut interest rates on Thursday in the hope of softening the blow to an economy already burdened by slack demand, as authorities reported 14 new cases.

Worry in South Korea about the disease has been reflected across the region with dozens of suspected cases being tested in Hong Kong, though none confirmed, and many thousands of people cancelling trips to South Korea.

South Korea’s outbreak, with 122 cases and nine deaths, is the largest outside Saudi Arabia and began last month when a 68-year-old South Korean businessman brought the disease back from a trip to the Middle East.

He was diagnosed with MERS on May 20 and all subsequent infections have been traced to him, and happened in health facilities.

President Park Geun-hye has put off a trip to the United States to deal with the disease as the total number of cases rises daily.

The central bank of Asia’s fourth biggest economy said it had to act and cut its policy rate by 25 basis points to a record-low 1.50 percent.

“We decided to cut rates today in a pre-emptive move to contain the economic fallout from MERS,” Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol told a media briefing.

Economic policymakers were already under pressure to stimulate the economy as weak global demand and a strong won have dented exports and discouraged spending by consumers and companies.

One positive sign was a fall in the number of South Korea’s schools and universities that have closed.

The total dipped to 2,431 on Thursday from about 2,700 the previous day after a joint team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and South Korea recommended that schools be reopened as they were unlikely to spread the disease.

“We all need to put behind us excessive fear and psychological withdrawal over MERS and try to go back to normal daily lives next week so we can minimize the impact on the economy,” Kim Moo-sung, who heads the ruling Saenuri party, said at a party meeting.

HONG KONG ALERT

MERS was first identified in humans in 2012. Most of the global cases, which number 1,271 according to WHO data, and at least 448 related deaths, have been in the Middle East.

But memories are fresh in Asia of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which emerged in 2002-2003 and killed about 800 people worldwide.

MERS is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that caused SARS. It is more deadly than SARS but does not spread as easily, at least for now.

Its symptoms include fever and a cough.

In Hong Kong, a clinic said it was testing two people who had both recently traveled to South Korea. Thirty-one people in Hong Kong who suspected they might have caught the disease have tested negative.

Hong Kong issued a “red alert” advisory on Tuesday against non-essential travel to South Korea while Singapore Airlines said it would waive fees for customers who want to cancel or rebook flights to South Korea.

Despite the fears, only one case has been reported outside South Korea in the current outbreak, that of a South Korean man who traveled to China via Hong Kong after defying a suggestion from health authorities in South Korea that he stay in voluntary quarantine.

China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the country was fully capable of containing any outbreak.

“There is no need to panic,” the Xinhua news agency quoted the center’s deputy head, Feng Zijian, as saying.

Among the new South Korean cases was a pregnant woman who contracted the virus in an emergency ward that has been linked to other confirmed cases, the health ministry said.

The woman’s pregnancy would limit the scope of treatment available, but she was in stable condition, the ministry said. The woman’s parents had previously tested positive for MERS.

Another new patient was a police officer in the city of Pyeongtaek, where dozens of infections occurred, all linked to the first patient.

(Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree in HONG KONG and Christine Kim and Yeawon Choi in SEOUL, Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel)

Trial drug for 2019 nCoV now ready to be administered to over 700 patients

Maris Federez   •   February 7, 2020

China’s health authorities have announced that registration for clinical trials on a potential antiviral drug for the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has been approved.

The antiviral drug called “Remdesivir” will be made available to the more than 700 patients that tested positive of the 2019 nCoV in Wuhan City, China for its clinical trial.

Authorities said that aside from the 2019 nCoV, the drug can also be used to fight Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and even Ebola infection.

Remdesivir was developed by the American pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences.

China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, the National Health Commission, and the National Medical Products Administration support the approval of the said drug. —(details from Grace Casin) /mbmf

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Asymptomatic transmission of 2019-nCoV, other coronaviruses, unusual occurrence — WHO

Maris Federez   •   February 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The possibility of asymptomatic transmission of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is rather slim.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that during previous outbreaks due to other coronaviruses such as Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), human to human transmission occurred through droplets, contacts, and fomites, suggesting that the transmission mode of the 2019-nCoV can be similar.

This is WHO’s response to a report that a businessman in Germany contracted the virus from a Chinese national from China who had not even shown any symptoms of the disease.

After several days, three of the German businessman’s colleagues had also been reportedly tested positive of the virus.

Meanwhile, based on the protocol being implemented by the Department of Health (DOH), an individual who is not showing any symptoms of the 2019-nCoV even if he has gone to a place where the case of the virus is high does not necessarily have to undergo quarantine.

“Although we are encouraging them to still be conscious sa kanilang kalusugan. Pero sila po ay na-clear na at base sa kanilang laboratory ay negative sila sa nCoV”,  said Dr. Ferchito Avelino, DOH Epidemiology Bureau Director.

Moreover, even those patients under investigation (PUI) or who had shown symptoms but yielded negative after being tested twice will be discharged and allowed to go home.

“Hanggat hindi nasatisfy yang two negative tests results saka na natin siya pwedeng paalisin”, said DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III. — (from the report of Dante Amento) /mbmf

Confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in China surpasses SARS, death toll rises to 132

Marje Pelayo   •   January 29, 2020

Confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China has already surpassed the record of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that shook the Asian country in 2003.

According to reports from China’s National Health Commission (NHC) as cited by state-run media CGTN, the virus has so far infected a total of 5,997 on Wednesday (January 29), a difference of 670 cases from 5,327 persons infected by SARS.

From the said number, eight cases were reported in Hong Kong, seven in Macau and eight in Taiwan.

An additional 26 people died of the virus overnight, pushing up the total number of deaths to 132, about 50% behind SARS’ record of deaths at 349.

Suspected cases also skyrocketed from 6,973 on Tuesday to 9,239 on Wednesday, an increase of 2,356 individuals under observation for showing symptoms of nCoV.

Health authorities confirmed human to human transmission of the virus and its transmission ability is getting stronger, according to China’s Health Minister Ma Xiaowei.

Although the World Health Orgnization (WHO) belied Ma’s statement that the virus can be infectious even before people exhibit symptoms, world health experts confirmed that the virus has the potential to mutate.

Thus, WHO representatives and health experts from different countries are readying to depart for China after President Xi Jinping agreed on a collaborative effort in handling novel coronavirus as the number of cases continues to increase.

So far, 30 cities and provinces remain on lock down and have launched Level 1 emergency response while Hong Kong declared its ‘highest’ emergency response amid nCoV outbreak.

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