Wed, Jun 10, 2015 - Page 7 News List

S Korea MERS deaths reach seven; HK issues alert

95 INFECTED:The South Korean government has been slammed for its lax efforts at containing the disease, which it now vowed to tackle with ‘an aggressive response’

Bloomberg

A young South Korean couple, center, and dozens of guests pose for a picture on Saturday wearing masks in this photograph released by wedding planner Sewing for the Soil.

Photo: AFP / Sewing for the Soil

South Korea reported its seventh death from Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), while Hong Kong said it would issue its second-highest travel warning to prevent unnecessary travel to the country.

The number of MERS cases in South Korea rose by eight, bringing the total to 95, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said yesterday. That compares with 23 new cases reported on Monday and 22 on Sunday, and prompted a government pledge to halt the virus’ spread within this week.

“People’s worries are growing about not only the spread of MERS but also its negative influence on the economy and society,” acting South Korean Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan said yesterday at a meeting on MERS, according to his office. “The government has decided to begin an aggressive response system with the resolve to end the MERS situation within this week.”

That commitment came too late to prevent Hong Kong from issuing a red alert on outbound travel to South Korea, indicating a “significant threat” and making it easier for travelers to obtain trip refunds or make insurance claims if they adjust their plans.

The other countries with a red alert are Egypt, Lebanon, Nepal and Pakistan. The only country with the highest black alert, indicating “severe threat,” is Syria.

The South Korean government has faced criticism at home and abroad for failing to contain the virus’ spread. Its refusal to name the affected hospitals led to concern that people would avoid seeking treatment and contributed to public unease. The government relented; the latest list includes 29 facilities.

All MERS infections in South Korea have been confirmed as occurring in hospitals, indicating the virus has not spread into the community. The latest death was a 68-year-old woman with heart disease who came into contact with another MERS patient at a Seoul hospital late last month, the health ministry said.

Hong Kong Food and Health Bureau Secretary Ko Wing-man (高永文) yesterday said that while transmission of MERS cases in South Korea were limited to hospitals, the rising number increased the risk of a community outbreak.

China’s Xinhua news agency last month accused South Korea of “bungling” its response after a man supposedly under medical surveillance traveled from South Korea to China via Hong Kong and became the nation’s first and only MERS case.

“We are taking all measures to respond to the MERS outbreak,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Indonesia also issued a travel advisory for trips to South Korea because of MERS, Antara News reported, citing Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsud.

About 25,000 people canceled trips to South Korea from Friday through Sunday last week, according to the Korea Tourism Organization.

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