3 new Mers cases in S. Korea

Two medical workers in Seoul among the newly diagnosed, total now 169

SEOUL - South Korea reported yesterday three new cases of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) as the health authorities remained vigilant against the spread of the virus, which appeared to have slowed in recent days.

Two medical workers were among the newly diagnosed cases, taking the total number of those infected to 169, the Health Ministry said.

The number of deaths was unchanged at 25, it said.

The medical staff affected include a doctor who treated a Mers patient at Samsung Medical Centre, where more than 80 were infected, in Seoul. The hospital is seen as the epicentre of the outbreak.

The other medical worker affected took X-rays of a Mers patient at another hospital in Seoul.

So far, a total of 43 people have recovered and been released from hospital, including seven between last Friday and last Saturday, the ministry said.

Fourteen patients are in critical condition, it added.

The latest numbers came a day after South Korea reported no new cases, raising guarded hopes that Seoul was winning the battle to contain the virus.

The number of new patients had been falling for three straight days, from eight last Tuesday to none last Saturday.

The number of people exposed to patients and quarantined at state facilities or at home also fell, to 4,035 on Saturday from a peak of more than 6,700 last Wednesday.

The outbreak began on May 20 when a 68-year-old man was diagnosed with Mers after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Since then, the virus has spread at an unusually rapid pace. Public alarm prompted the temporary closure of thousands of schools and trip cancellations by more than 120,000 foreign tourists.

Almost all the patients were infected in hospitals. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it had found no evidence of transmission of the virus within communities outside hospitals.

WHO chief Margaret Chan said last Thursday that Seoul was on a very good footing after an initially slow response.

The number of new infections has generally been in decline since peaking at 23 on June 7.

Most schools reopened last week except for about 120 - mostly in Seoul, in Gyeonggi province, which surrounds the capital, and in Busan, the country's second-largest city.

There is no known vaccine for Mers, which has a mortality rate of 35 per cent, according to WHO.

The outbreak in South Korea, the largest outside Saudi Arabia, has sparked alarm elsewhere in Asia. Thailand confirmed its first Mers patient last Thursday, and Hong Kong recently advised citizens against non-essential travel to South Korea.

The Thai Health Ministry said last Saturday that 176 people had been exposed to the country's only Mers case and that the patient's condition had improved. Acting public health permanent secretary Surachet Sathitiniramai said three relatives of the patient had tested negative for the virus.

Last Friday, Thai Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin told reporters the chances of a Mers outbreak in Thailand like the one in South Korea were low as the authorities had isolated the patient quickly.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2015, with the headline '3 new Mers cases in S. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe