Strict hospital quarantine rules prevented the four children of a suspected Middle East Respiratory Syndrome patient in Daejeon, central South Korea, from visiting their father. The 82-year-old man died on June 3, while his wife was in a nearby hospital ward under observation for a suspected MERS infection, according to local media reports.
Her condition, the health ministry said last week, has since become critical after it was confirmed she had the virus. The ministry is now declining to discuss individual MERS cases, citing privacy concerns.
“The most important thing for us is to have mother back at home in full health. When she comes home, we will bow to our father’s portrait,” one of the family’s three sons told the Yonhap News Agency. The family and the hospital couldn’t be reached for comment.
As South Korea seeks to prevent spread of the virus, it has tightened quarantines that were initially blamed for being too lax and allowing MERS to spread. The nation’s first outbreak of the virus began when a man returned from the Middle East on May 20 and visited several hospitals seeking medical help before being diagnosed and quarantined.
World Health Organization officials say the virus appears to be contained within medical facilities, but on Sundaywarned that more cases were likely. On Monday, health authorities reported the 16th death of a MERS patient and five new cases, taking the total to 150. The latest fatality was of a 58-year-old man who had diabetes.
Most deaths have been in older people with other illnesses. The 82-year-old man in Daejeon, who hasn’t been named, suffered from asthma and high blood pressure.
One of the new cases announced Monday is a 39-year-old female hospital worker who treated the man on June 3. The health ministry said Monday it was closing parts of the hospital after the woman’s diagnosis in a further effort to prevent the virus’s spread. Several other hospitals that treated MERS sufferers have been partially or completely closed.
More than 5,000 people are under MERS quarantine. On Friday, one patient at a hospital in Seoul broke a door lock while waiting for a MERS test and returned home, according to local reports. He went to a different hospital the following day and was admitted after confirmation he had MERS. Health officials have since been trying to determine who he came into contact with after fleeing the first facility.
The elderly man in Daejeon is suspected of contracting the virus after sharing a hospital room with a MERS carrier, according to the health ministry. It isn’t clear how his wife, 83, caught the virus, but WHO officials say that South Korea’s tradition of families providing care for members who are hospitalized may have contributed. Some of the man’s children are now under house quarantine.
While South Korea tries to prevent the spread of MERS in local communities, thousands of schools that closed because of fears of MERS reopened on Monday following an advisory from the WHO saying the measure was no longer necessary.