Park post­pones US trip as S. Korea MERS death toll hits nine

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE -

South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Ge­un­hye has post­poned a planned trip to the United States, her spokesman said Wed­nes­day, amid grow­ing public alarm at the MERS out­break which has now claimed nine lives.

The de­ci­sion to de­lay the June 14-18 visit came af­ter Park’s ad­min­is­tra­tion came un­der fire for what crit­ics say has been an in­ad­e­quate re­sponse to the cri­sis.

“Pres­i­dent Park de­cided to post­pone the U.S. trip in or­der to help end the out­break of MERS and take care of public safety,” her se­nior press sec­re­tary Kim Sung-woo told re­porters.

“We asked for un­der­stand­ing from the U.S. gov­ern­ment and both na­tions agreed to resched­ule the trip at the ear­li­est con­ve­nience.”

Two new deaths and 13 new cases were con­firmed on Wed­nes­day, bring­ing the to­tal num­ber of deaths to nine and the num­ber of in­fec­tions to 108 in the worst out­break of Mid­dle East Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome out­side Saudi Ara­bia.

The first in­fected pa­tient was di­ag­nosed on May 20 af­ter a trip to Saudi Ara­bia.

The 68-year-old man spread the virus, vis­it­ing four med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties and in­fect­ing other pa­tients and health care work­ers.

Since then, nearly 3,500 peo­ple who were ex­posed to in­fected peo­ple have been placed un­der quar­an­tine of vary­ing strict­ness.

The out­break has also alarm else­where in Asia.

trig­gered

A woman was rushed to a Hong Kong hos­pi­tal Wed­nes­day on sus­pi­cion she had con­tracted MERS, af­ter re­turn­ing from a trip to South Korea.

Hong Kong had pre­vi­ously quar­an­tined 19 peo­ple as a pre­cau­tion against MERS and had also iso­lated sus­pected cases which turned out to be false alarms.

Park’s ap­proval rat­ings have taken a dive as crit­ics ac­cused her ad­min­is­tra­tion and health of­fi­cials of re­spond­ing too slowly to the cri­sis.

A sur­vey by polling agency Real­me­ter showed on Wed­nes­day that more than half of South Kore­ans op­posed her planned trip to the U.S., a ma­jor ally.

The two lat­est fa­tal­i­ties were a 75-year-old woman and a 62-yearold man. They con­tracted the virus at Sam­sung Med­i­cal Cen­ter, a ma­jor hos­pi­tal in Seoul.

It has seen 47 in­fec­tions, the high­est num­ber at any sin­gle health fa­cil­ity, as well as 10 of the 13 new pa­tients re­ported Wed­nes­day.

The three other new vic­tims had their di­ag­noses con­firmed at three dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals, two in the cen­tral city of Dae­jeon and one near a south­ern sub­urb of Seoul.

Hos­pi­tal In­fec­tions

All the in­fec­tions, how­ever, were limited to hos­pi­tals.

The nine dead had pre-ex­ist­ing health con­di­tions, the health min­istry said, adding four pa­tients so far have re­cov­ered and were re­leased from hos­pi­tal.

As the num­ber of cases and deaths has risen and public alarm grew, nearly 2,500 schools — mostly in Seoul and sur­round­ing Gyeonggi prov­ince — were closed Wed­nes­day, up 300 from the pre­vi­ous day.

Po­lice said they were in­ves­ti­gat­ing eight peo­ple for spread­ing false ru­mors in­volv­ing hos­pi­tals, or for pass­ing on pa­tient in­for­ma­tion with­out con­sent.

On Wed­nes­day health of­fi­cials also launched na­tion­wide screen­ing of sick per­sons with pneu­mo­nia, since MERS pa­tients of­ten de­velop pneu­mo­nia.

There is no vac­cine or cure for MERS which, ac­cord­ing to World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) data, has a fa­tal­ity rate of around 35 per­cent.

Af­ter a joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion with lo­cal ex­perts, a WHO team said Wed­nes­day that the pat­tern of the out­break in South Korea is prob­a­bly sim­i­lar to the pre­vi­ous ones at Mid­dle East health­care fa­cil­i­ties.

“Strong con­sid­er­a­tion should be given to re­open­ing schools, as schools have not been linked to trans­mis­sion of” the MERS virus in South Korea, said a re­lease from the joint WHOSouth Korea mission tasked with re­view­ing the out­break.

It was not im­me­di­ately known how many schools would fol­low the rec­om­men­da­tion. But South Korean of­fi­cials hope the out­break will come un­der con­trol around Fri­day, the last day of the virus’ max­i­mum two-week in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod for those in­fected by a pa­tient con­sid­ered as the main source of the sec­ond round of the MERS out­break. Of­fi­cials say the first wave of the out­break has ended.

AP

South Korean el­e­men­tary school stu­dents wear masks as a pre­cau­tion against the MERS (Mid­dle East Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome) virus as they go to school in Seoul, Wed­nes­day, June 10.

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