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(LEAD) S. Korea moves to declare 'de facto' end to MERS outbreak

All Headlines 14:43 July 24, 2015

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with reports of government plan to announce 'de facto' end of MERS outbreak, minor changes throughout; ADDS photo)

SEJONG, July 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea may soon declare an end to the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), although a more official declaration will come later, government officials said Friday.

The country has reported no additional infections over the past 19 days with the death toll also remaining flat at 36 for the past two weeks.

So far, 186 people have been diagnosed with the potentially fatal disease while 138 of them have been discharged from hospitals following complete recoveries.

The remaining 12 are still hospitalized, but 11 have already tested negative for the disease, and are only recovering from other complications caused by MERS, officials from the Health and Welfare Ministry said earlier.

"The government plans to hold a special meeting early next week to discuss how to deal with the MERS outbreak from here. Following the meeting, it is expected to announce a statement telling people that it is now safe to return to their normal daily lives," an official said, asking not to be identified.

Since the country reported its first case on May 20, some 16,700 people have been subject to quarantine for possible infection following exposure to MERS patients. Only one still remains in isolation as of Friday while the rest have been released after showing no symptoms of MERS for more than the known maximum incubation period of 14 days for the disease.

The officials, however, noted the government's message next week will only mark what they called a "de facto" end to the outbreak.

"Too much time is left until we can declare an end to the outbreak under World Health Organization (WHO) rules," an official said.

"Even if we will declare an official end to the outbreak under WHO rules, the government still needed to send a message to its people that they are now safe."

Under WHO rules, the declaration of an end to an outbreak can be made at least 28 days after the last patient has completely recovered. The government has said it will follow WHO rules for the declaration of the end to the MERS outbreak in South Korea.

MERS is a viral respiratory disease that had a very high fatality rate of over 40 percent until the outbreak here. In South Korea, the fatality rate currently stands at 19.4 percent.

The disease was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It has since affected some 1,500 people throughout the world.


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