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Samsung Medical Center`s quarantine loopholes key to preventing 3rd MERS spread

Samsung Medical Center`s quarantine loopholes key to preventing 3rd MERS spread

Posted June. 16, 2015 07:45,   


The government on Monday has sent a group of quarantine inspectors to Samsung Medical Center, where the second spread of Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) started. Headed by a director-general level official of the Office of the Prime Minister, the team will inspect the hospital`s quarantine management and implementation of measures it promised to carry out. A quick response team consisting mainly of civilian experts is conducting an epidemiologic investigation at the hospital in order to prevent the third round of spread. The Office of the Prime Minister has come to the front basically because of the mistrust in the Ministry of Health and Welfare and Samsung Medical Center.

The Samsung hospital, one of the country`s top medical institutions, has become the epicenter of the spread of MERS in large part because of the health ministry. Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan, who is now the acting prime minister, also admitted that there were problems in the government`s initial handling of the situation. Health and Welfare Minister Moon Hyung-pyo said on June 2 that the ministry would quarantine the entire hospital or an ward of a medical institution where affected by the MERS virus. While the ministry has contained or quarantined various hospitals, it allowed Samsung to take care of itself.

In the event of an epidemic outbreak, the government has to immediately carry out an epidemiologic investigation and keep outpatients and visitors out of affected hospitals. However, the quarantine authorities have aggravated the situation by leaving it up to Samsung Medical Center to conduct an epidemiologic investigation and trace people who made contacts with the infected. A ministry official denied the allegation that the ministry was in favor of the Samsung hospital, saying it had confidence in the hospital. Song Jae-hoon, president and CEO of Samsung Medical Center, once served as the head of the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases and is also the president of the Asian-Pacific Research Foundation for Infectious Diseases. However, he failed to close the loopholes in his hospital`s quarantine system.

Patient No. 138, a Samsung Medical Center doctor who is a confirmed MERS patient, was not quarantined, while Patient No. 137, a paramedic at the hospital, also showed symptoms but continued to work for nine days, transporting 76 other patients. Because the health ministry has kept Samsung Medical Center a sanctuary in the quarantine system, there were loopholes in the selection and management of people to be quarantined. Seventy-five people have been infected with MERS directly or indirectly through the hospital. More seriously, patients infected through this hospital are now scattered across the country, fueling concerns over a third round of major spread.

The investigators from the Office of the Prime Minister should conduct a full-fledged epidemiologic investigation not only into the hospital`s intensive care unit but also the entire hospital, and disclose the results of the probe. As the government has concluded that strong medical and administrative inspections and supervision are necessary, it should intensively control people who had a close contact with the infected and those to be quarantined in order to spread a third round of spread, which would be a crucial watershed in repressing the outbreak. Once the situation is stabilized, through investigation has to be conducted as to why the quarantine authorities were so soft on Samsung Medical Center.