S. Korea re­ports first MERS deaths

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JUNG HA- WON

South Korea on Tues­day re­ported its first deaths from an out­break of the MERS virus that has in­fected 25 peo­ple, caused wide­spread alarm and trig­gered a closer watch by Asian neigh­bors on Korean ar­rivals.

The two deaths were only the sec­ond case of fa­tal­i­ties from MERS (Mid­dle East Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome) in Asia since a man died in Malaysia in April 2014.

In China state me­dia said hun­dreds of peo­ple had can­celled trips to South Korea, while Thai­land and Viet­nam said they were re­in­forc­ing mon­i­tor­ing of in­bound pas­sen­gers at air­ports.

Hong Kong also stepped up sur­veil­lance and placed 18 peo­ple who had been seated near an in­fected Korean man on a flight from Seoul last week un­der manda­tory quar­an­tine.

The deaths an­nounced by the South Korean health min­istry were of a 58-year-old woman and a 71-year-old man.

Six more peo­ple were di­ag­nosed with the MERS virus Mon­day night, the min­istry said, bring­ing the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple in­fected to 25 in­clud­ing the two de­ceased.

The first case — a 68-year-old man di­ag­nosed af­ter re­turn­ing from a trip to Saudi Ara­bia — was re­ported on May 20.

Around 750 peo­ple who were ex­posed di­rectly or in­di­rectly to the virus have now been placed un­der vary­ing lev­els of quar­an­tine.

‘Please co­op­er­ate’

“Those who are quar­an­tined must be experiencing a lot of in­con­ve­nience in their daily lives, but please closely co­op­er­ate for the safety of your­self, your fam­i­lies and your neigh­bors,” said Health Min­is­ter Moon Hyung-pyo

Moon also urged cit­i­zens to wear sur­gi­cal face masks in public places and to wash their hands fre­quently to ward off in­fec­tion.

The out­break has fu­elled grow­ing public alarm, and on­line re­tail­ers re­ported a 700 per­cent surge in sales of face masks over the week­end.

On Seoul stock mar­kets, share prices of some phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firms jumped by the daily limit of 15 per­cent on Tues­day, while those of air­line and travel op­er­a­tors took a dive.

In Gyeonggi prov­ince, where the woman fa­tal­ity was re­ported, around 40 pri­vate kinder­gartens and el­e­men­tary schools closed down tem­po­rar­ily as con­cerned par­ents with­drew their chil­dren.

Kwon Jun- wook, a se­nior health min­istry of­fi­cial lead­ing an emer­gency task force, said more peo­ple were ex­pected to be quar­an­tined in the com­ing days, while 240 peo­ple had been banned from trav­el­ing over­seas.

Three pa­tients are cur­rently in crit­i­cal con­di­tion, he added.

Mid­dle East Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn- drome is con­sid­ered a dead­lier but less in­fec­tious cousin of Se­vere Acute Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome (SARS), which killed hun­dreds of peo­ple when it ap­peared in Asia in 2003.

More than 20 coun­tries have been af­fected by the MERS virus, which has no known cure or vac­cine, with most cases in Saudi Ara­bia.

World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion spokesman Chris­tian Lind­meier said in Geneva that MERS has now in­fected 1,161 peo­ple glob­ally, with 436 deaths.

He said it ap­pears to have a fa­tal­ity rate of 37-40 per­cent, but that fig­ure should be used with cau­tion since many less se­ri­ous cases are never re­ported.

South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye has scolded health of­fi­cials over their “in­suf­fi­cient” re­sponse to the out­break, and for al­low­ing an in­fected man to travel to China last week de­spite warn­ings from doc­tors.

The 44-year-old flew to Hong Kong be­fore trav­el­ing on to the Chi­nese city of Huizhou, where he is cur­rently be­ing treated un­der quar­an­tine in hos­pi­tal.


A man walks in front of a quar­an­tine tent for sus­pected MERS cases at the Seoul Na­tional Uni­ver­sity Hos­pi­tal in Seoul on Tues­day, June 2.

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