SEOUL - Two major hospitals in South Korea's capital suspended services to patients yesterday in a bid to stop the spread of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) after four new cases of the deadly virus were reported in recent days, said the country's Health Ministry.
The ministry also said the Mers outbreak was at a crossroads, backing off from its earlier view that the spread of the virus had levelled off.
The more guarded assessment came as the government extended the partial shutdown of the Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul, which had been due to end yesterday. About half the 179 infections in the country have been traced to the prestigious hospital, including some of this week's new cases.
"We are at a crossroads, whether this is going to spread further or not," Mr Kwon Deok Cheol, the Health Ministry's chief policy official, told a news briefing.
Another major Seoul hospital, the Konkuk University Medical Centre, yesterday also stopped admitting new patients and performing surgery.
A total of 27 people have died in South Korea's Mers outbreak - the largest outside Saudi Arabia - while about 3,100 people were being held under quarantine at state facilities or at home.
Sixteen patients were in critical condition as of yesterday, the ministry said, while 67 people have recovered and been released from hospital.
On Tuesday, Samsung heir apparent Lee Jae Yong bowed in apology during a nationally televised address for the failure to stop the spread of the virus at the hospital run by a Samsung Group foundation.
Meanwhile, in Thailand, nine of the 163 people who were in close contact with the Omani patient diagnosed with Mers remained elusive, reported The Nation newspaper yesterday.
The search for them is ongoing despite only a small chance of their having contracted the disease, Public Health Ministry deputy permanent secretary Surachet Satitramai was quoted by the daily as saying on Tuesday.
The nine people who have yet to be traced are a Thai taxi driver, six British nationals, one Swiss and an Italian who had boarded the same flight as the Omani patient. "The ministry has contacted the relevant embassies to seek their help in locating them," Mr Surachet said.
The condition of the country's sole patient, the Omani, was much better and he could now move around by himself, the newspaper quoted Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin as saying.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS