The South Korean Health Ministry has reported the death of a seventh person from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, also known as MERS. Health ministry officials said Tuesday the victim is a 68-year-old woman who was at a hospital in Seoul. She reportedly had been in the same hospital emergency room where other MERS infections have taken place. The health ministry also reported eight new cases of the disease.
Jeong Eun-kyung is with South Korea’s disease control center.
She says “We confirmed that there are a total of 95 cases of MERS. But (among them), nine patients are in unstable condition until this morning.”
Just two weeks ago, South Korea had only four confirmed cases of the disease. VOA’s reporter in Seoul says the growing number of cases has yet to affect daily life. The city’s trains are still crowded with passengers, many of them going to or from work. Relatively few South Koreans wear face masks to protect against the virus. Those covering their faces are more likely foreigners. Fear of MERS has led to a drop in the number of foreign tourists.
More than 2,500 people have been placed under quarantine for suspected contact with MERS patients. They are being forced to live apart from others, and their movement has been restricted. Health officials say they are watching the cell phone signals of the quarantined individuals to make sure they honor the restrictions.
South Korea also has closed nearly 2,000 schools in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. All the infections have taken place in hospitals or medical centers.
On Sunday, the government changed its policy and announced the names of the 24 health care centers where MERS patients have been identified or treated. The publication of the names follows the discovery that one center had an unusually high number of MERS cases.
Deputy Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan said Sunday that because all the MERS cases have been linked to hospitals, “we think we have a chance at putting the outbreak under total control.”
Other countries in Asia have warned their citizens against traveling to South Korea. Japan announced on Tuesday that it has set up special task forces to help its citizens there deal with the spread of the virus. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida spoke about the groups.
He said, “By setting up the local task forces, we are giving out utmost effort in gathering and providing information for the safety of Japanese nationals overseas.”
MERS is related to a virus that infected thousands of people with SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, in 2003. It has no cure or vaccine to prevent its spread. MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The disease has since spread to several other countries.
I’m Bob Doughty.
VOA’s Brian Padden in Seoul and William Gallo in Washington reported this story. George Grow adapted their reports for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
Words in This Story
respiratory – adj. related to the act of breathing
mask(s) – n. a covering worn on the face
tourist(s) – n. traveler; someone who travels from place to place
quarantine – n. being kept away from others to prevent a disease from spreading
task – adj. related to a job or a piece of work