The first “index” patient, a 68-year-old employee of an agricultural products company, returned home on May 4 via Qatar after visiting Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
He developed a fever and cough, both symptoms of MERS, on May 11 and sought care at three clinics. But doctors did not suspect MERS because he did not tell them about his Middle East trip. A doctor and a nurse from those clinics later tested positive for the virus.
It was not until May 18 that a doctor at a larger hospital asked the government authorities to test the man for the virus. Two days later, he was declared the country’s first MERS case. Twenty-seven other cases have since been traced to that hospital.
One of them, a 44-year-old man who visited his father there, flew to China on May 26 via Hong Kong, although he had been advised by doctors to stay home. The penalty for ignoring such advice is a fine of up to 3 million won, or $2,700. He tested positive in China and was quarantined there last week.
Another patient, a 58-year-old woman, was infected through contact with the first patient but was released after treatment for asthma. The health authorities did not trace her to another hospital until Sunday. She died of MERS on Monday.
“We apologize for the inappropriate initial responses,” Moon Hyung-pyo, the minister of health and welfare, said Tuesday at a news conference. “We were too relaxed.”