South Korea takes action to halt spread of MERS

Concerns are increasing in South Korea following reports of more MERS cases

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

South Korean officials are trying to ease fears after five new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases were reported in the country on Thursday.  

More than 800 schools were closed on Thursday in order to halt the spread of the illness in the country.   

South Korean President, Park Geun-hye, assured the South Korean public that everything will be done to prevent the further spread of the Middle East Respiratory Virus (MERS) in an emergency meeting on Wednesday.

“Students and the elderly are among the most vulnerable... so let’s discuss how to protect these people,” Park said during Wednesday’s meeting.

South Korea’s Health Ministry reported its first MERS case on May 20, a 68 years old man from Bahrain in Korea for farming related business on April 18. After his entrance to the country, the virus began to spread rapidly.

About 7,000 tourists from Taiwan and China have cancelled their trips to South Korea as of June 2 according to a spokesman from the Korea Tourism Organisation.

“A mass cancellation of this scale is very unusual,” a spokesperson from the Korea Tourism Organization told the Agence France Presse.

“Many travellers cited the MERS outbreak as the main reason,” he added.

Japan has announced that it may take quarantine measures for people who enter the country.

A South Korean official said that North Korea demanded Seoul provide heat-detecting camera to observe the temperatures of the South Korean workers who will cross the border to work in the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex.

South Korea sent three cameras to the complex in response to the North’s demand, the official said.

South Korea announced the number of the cases in the country has increased to 35 with five new cases including two health workers who was responsible for taking care of infected patients.

An official from a health center in Seoul's Gangnam district said "We are in a war," in an attempt to show that they are taking the crisis seriously in order toy after the announcement of the 5 more cases on Thursday.

The MERS coronavirus is the same family with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which left more than 800 people dead and infected about 8,000 people worldwide between 2002-2003.

MERS does not spread from human to human easily but its fatality rate is much higher than SARS, with 38 percent of those dying, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures.

“The outbreak is the largest reported outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where the disease first emerged in April 2012 and the vast majority of cases have occurred,” said the WHO in a statement earlier this week, according to TIME.

1,180 MERS cases have been reported worldwide, including the latest South Korean cases, since April 2012. According to WHO data ,the virus has so far caused the deaths of more than 442 people.

TRTWorld and agencies