MERS Virus Outbreak Forces Hundreds Of schools To Close In South Korea
Hundreds of schools have been closed in South Korea as officials deal with an outbreak of the MERS virus that has infected 38 people, killed three and caused thousands to cancel travel plans.
More than 1,100 schools and colleges have closed in response to public fears over what has become the largest outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outside Saudi Arabia.
Five more cases were confirmed today, bringing the total number of known infections to 35, the health ministry said.
The first case – reported on 20 May – was of a 68-year-old man diagnosed after a trip to Saudi Arabia.
The third fatality was reported yesterday. The 82-year-old man who was in hospital with asthma and bacterial pneumonia, had shared a room with others infected with MERS.
Since then, more than 1,300 people who may have been exposed directly or indirectly to the virus have been placed under varying levels of quarantine.
Some were isolated at state-designated facilities while many were strongly advised to stay at home.
In Seoul, growing public concern has been reflected in the daily increase in the number of commuters wearing face masks on buses and subways.
And the anxiety has been exported, with the Korea Tourism Organisation reporting that around 7,000 tourists – mostly from China and Taiwan – had cancelled planned group trips to South Korea.
“A mass cancellation of this scale is very unusual… and many travellers cited the MERS outbreak as the main reason,” a KTO spokesman said.
President Park Geun-Hye’s administration, and health officials in general, have been criticised for responding too slowly to the initial outbreak.
In an emergency meeting with health officials yesterday, the president called for “utmost efforts” to curb the spread of the virus and ease public fear.
MERS has now infected 1,180 people globally, with 442 deaths.
More than 20 countries have been affected, with most cases in Saudi Arabia.
The virus, 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 World Health Organization said it expected more infections in South Korea, but stressed that there was “no evidence of sustained transmission in the community”.
South Korea also said it had agreed to a request from North Korea to install thermal-imaging cameras in their Kaesong joint industrial zone to prevent infection from the MERS outbreak.
Kaesong lies 10km over the border in North Korea, and around 500 South Koreans travel there every day to manage factories that employ around 53,000 North Korean workers.
Courtesy of rte.ie