By Chang May Choon ,The Straits Times/Asia News Network
Barely a month after moving to Seoul, my husband and I are wondering if we should send our 5-year-old daughter back to Singapore. Anticipating the chaos and panic that would ensue after news got out that a hospital doctor infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) had broken quarantine and attended an event alongside more than 1,500 people last weekend, we figured it would be safer for her to be away from the centre of a possible epidemic. ��This is Korea, not Singapore, Korea not safe, you know.�� muttered my Korean husband, casting doubt on his home country. Just hours ago, I had got an earful from my in-laws who called asking if their granddaughter went to school. ��Yes,�� I replied matter-of-factly. They were shocked. Don’t you know there’s a virus going around, they chided. I do. I have been crunching the latest facts and figures for readers of The Straits Times.
As of June 5, there were 41 confirmed Mers cases, four deaths, more than 600 suspected cases, over 1,600 people quarantined, 1,100 schools closed, and 7,000 tourist cancellations. Throughout the day, I’ve been getting messages and emails from Singapore friends, asking if it is still safe to travel to Seoul. I told them yes, because the spread of the disease has so far been contained to Gyeonggi province which surrounds the capital city. But not anymore. By now, there should be a witch hunt online for the identity of the Seoul doctor, who is probably being called awful names for putting so many people at risk by leaving home to attend a large-scale event at Gaepo-dong in Gangnam district, Seoul, on Sunday. The 38-year-old doctor had treated a man who caught the virus from the index patient, a 68-year-old man from Gyeonggi province who tested positive for Mers on May 20, after a trip to the Middle East. You would think a doctor should know better. He should be leading the fight against MERS, not contributing to the spread by coughing and sneezing his way through such a huge crowd. First identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, MERS is an viral respiratory disease that causes symptoms like fever, cough, shortness of breath, and in extreme cases, death. It can spread by close contact or respiratory droplets. There is no treatment or vaccine, and death rate is said to be about 40 percent. But in South Korea, the fatality date is only about 10 percent so far.