Park urges ac­tion as MERS out­break closes schools

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye urged of­fi­cials to ease ris­ing public panic Wed­nes­day over an out­break of Mid­dle East Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome (MERS) that has in­fected 30 peo­ple, killed two and closed hun­dreds of schools.

With the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion pre­dict­ing fur­ther in­fec­tions and the gov­ern­ment un­der fire for its ini­tial re­sponse, Park con­vened an emer­gency meet­ing with top health of­fi­cials and med­i­cal ex­perts to map out a com­pre­hen­sive quar­an­tine strat­egy.

“Many South Kore­ans are get­ting anx­ious,” Park said, urg­ing “ut­most ef­forts” to pre­vent fur­ther spread of the virus.

“Stu­dents and the el­derly are among the most vul­ner­a­ble ... so let’s dis­cuss how to pro­tect th­ese peo­ple,” she added.

Ear­lier in the day, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Hwang Woo-Yea said more than 200 pri­mary schools had tem­po­rar­ily shut down, as con­cerned par­ents with­drew their chil­dren.

Five new con­firmed cases were re­ported overnight, mak­ing this the largest MERS out­break out­side Saudi Ara­bia, where the virus has killed more than 400 since 2012.

With new in­fec­tions be­ing re­ported on a daily ba­sis, the out­break has caused na­tion­wide public alarm and seen fear­ful ur­ban res­i­dents stock­ing up on face masks and hand san­i­tiz­ers.

Dozens of public events have been can­celled, while more than 1,360 peo­ple who were ex­posed di­rectly or in­di­rectly to the virus have been placed un­der vary­ing lev­els of quar­an­tine.

Park has al­ready scolded health of­fi­cials for their “in­suf­fi­cient” ini­tial re­sponse, dur­ing which one in­fected man man­aged to travel to China de­spite warn­ings from doc­tors.

MERS, which has no known cure or vac­cine, 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.

The two deaths re­ported so far were of a 58-year-old woman and a 71-year-old man.

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

“Given the num­ber of clin­ics and hos­pi­tals that cared for the in­dex case, fur­ther cases can be ex­pected,” the WHO said in a state­ment from Geneva on Tues­day.

The health body said it was closely mon­i­tor­ing the out­break of what it de­scribed as an “emerg­ing dis­ease that re­mains poorly un­der­stood.”

MERS has now in­fected 1,161 peo­ple glob­ally, with 436 deaths. More than 20 coun­tries have been af­fected, with most cases in Saudi Ara­bia.

AP

South Korean mid­dle school stu­dents wear masks as a pre­cau­tion against the Mid­dle East Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome (MERS) virus as they visit Gyeong­bok Palace in Seoul, South Korea, Wed­nes­day, June 3.

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