SEOUL: South Korea’s Health Ministry on Thursday reported 14 new cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), taking the total to 122 in an outbreak that is the largest outside Saudi Arabia.
Among the newly reported cases was a pregnant woman who contracted the virus at the emergency ward of a Seoul hospital that has been linked to a number of other confirmed cases, the ministry said. She was reported to be in stable condition.
The woman’s parents had also previously tested positive to MERS, the ministry said. The woman was reported to be in stable condition.
MERS OUTBREAK DELAYS PARK’S US TRIP
The spread of the disease has stirred up public fear and confusion, prompting President Park Geun-hye to postpone a visit to the United States, while health officials have been criticized over a lack of transparency and for failing to swiftly contain the spread.
On Wednesday, the ministry reported two deaths from the MERS virus, bringing the number of fatalities to nine. All of those who died had been suffering serious ailments before they tested positive for the MERS virus, the ministry said.
The outbreak, the largest outside Saudi Arabia, has fuelled public anxiety and hit spending, with thousands in quarantine and the number of schools closing rising to 2,474, including 22 universities.
A joint South Korean-World Health Organization mission (WHO) on Wednesday recommended that schools be reopened as they were unlikely to spread the disease, just as school boards recommended more be shut.
“Schools have not been linked to transmission of (the virus) in the Republic of Korea or elsewhere,” the mission said in a statement.
TRAVELLERS AVOID AIRPORT DUE TO MERS SCARE
Airplanes, taxis and subways in South Korea are being disinfected to prevent the spread of MERS and protect passengers from transmission, as people avoided public transport in response to the outbreak of MERS.
Seoul Metro, city-owned subway company, said on average 4,600,000 people take the subway daily but only about two million people took a subway on Sunday (Jun 7).
Some countries around the region have issued advisories against travel to South Korea or stepped up screening of inbound passengers, dealing a setback to a tourism sector that had been a bright spot for the flagging South Korean economy.
The main Incheon airport said the number of passenger arrivals was down sharply on Monday (Jun 8) and Tuesday.
First identified in humans in 2012, MERS is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that triggered China’s deadly 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). There is no cure or vaccine.
South Korea’s new cases bring the total number of MERS cases globally to 1,271 based on WHO data, with at least 448 related deaths. The country has the second highest number of cases after Saudi Arabia, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
South Korea’s infections have all been traced to a man who developed MERS after returning from a trip to the Middle East in early May, and who came into contact with other patients at a hospital before being diagnosed.