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(4th LD) S. Korea reports two more MERS deaths, 13 new cases

All Headlines 17:43 June 10, 2015

(ATTN: UPDATES with more infor in para 16, WHO recommendations in paras 18-20)

SEJONG, June 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Wednesday confirmed two more deaths from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and reported 13 new cases, bringing the number of infections to 108.

The latest fatalities marked the eighth and ninth MERS-related deaths in the country since the outbreak was first confirmed on May 20.

The 13 new cases were confirmed among people who have been in isolation.

According to the Health and Welfare Ministry, 10 out of the 13 new MERS patients were infected while visiting Seoul's Samsung Medical Center, one of the largest and most renowned hospitals in the capital whose fame had apparently attracted a MERS patient seeking treatment.

With the 13 new cases and people they have come in contact with prior to their diagnosis, the number of people in isolation for possible infection came to 3,439 as of Wednesday, according to the ministry.

Still, all transmissions so far have occurred at hospitals, most of which had unknowingly treated MERS patients, also unaware of their infection, it added.

The government has released the names of all hospitals affected by MERS, which stood at 29 on Monday.

As hospitals have been identified as a major, if not the sole, source of the disease, Acting Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan asked people to refrain from visiting their families or friends at hospitals.

"According to experts, MERS is currently being transmitted only through hospitals, and so preventing infections at hospitals is an important key to stopping the spread of the disease," Choi said in a press conference.

He also warned against unnecessary and groundless fears eating into the country's economy, noting that the virus is not transmitted through air.

"The government asks that people do not hold exaggerated fears or concerns over MERS, and that they do not act based on such groundless fears, such as reducing their spending or avoiding visits to areas that have reported confirmed cases of MERS," he said.

So far, four people previously diagnosed with the disease have been discharged from hospitals following complete recoveries.

Currently, 11 out of those diagnosed are in unstable condition, according to the ministry.

MERS is a viral respiratory illness that was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The disease had a very high fatality rate of over 40 percent before the outbreak in South Korea, according to the health ministry.

The latest MERS-related deaths here put the fatality rate of the disease in South Korea at around 8 percent.

A joint team of officials from the Seoul government and the World Health Organization (WHO) is currently trying to find out what factors are fueling the outbreak here. MERS has been spreading unusually fast and wide in South Korea compared to previous cases.

Until the outbreak in South Korea, only some 1,100 cases of infections had been reported globally with over 90 percent of the total confirmed in Saudi Arabia.

Noting the spread of infections has nothing to do with schools, the WHO team advised the country to reopen schools closed as a precautionary measure.

"All transmissions have been limited to hospitals so far and all evidence points to a similarity between South Korea and the Middle East," the team said.

The team's advice comes as more than 1,800 kindergartens and schools have been temporarily shut down, some since last week.

The joint investigation of WHO officials and South Korean experts is expected to announce the outcome of their study Saturday.

In addition to its efforts to quickly eliminate the disease, the government was also struggling to prevent the disease from putting a dent in the local economy.

In an earlier meeting with economy-related ministers, Acting Prime Minister Choi said the government plans to provide more than 400 billion won (US$356 million) in emergency relief funds to areas and businesses affected by the disease.

Choi, who is also the finance minister, said the government will also provide emergency funds to MERS patients and those in isolation for possible infection while also paying for their cost of diagnosis and treatment.

"The government will mobilize all its power and resources as if it were trying to eliminate the disease this very week," he told the meeting, according to the finance ministry.


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