Samsung chief, 73, to remain in Seoul hospital despite patients, staff being exposed to Mers

Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun Hee will remain at the Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul, where he has been receiving treatment since May last year following a heart attack. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun Hee will remain at the Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul, where he has been receiving treatment since May last year following a heart attack. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG/AFP) - Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee will remain at the Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul, where he has been receiving treatment since May last year following a heart attack, despite the hospital being one of the hospitals hardest hit by the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) that is causing spreading panic in the country.

Parent company Samsung Group has no plans to transfer the 73-year-old, Yonhap news agency reported on Sunday, citing a person it did not identify.

The Samsung Medical Centre - one of the 24 hospitals where 17 cases of Mers were confirmed - said on Sunday that over 890 patients and medical staff had been exposed to those infected. "We notified the 893 people immediately and carried out necessary quarantine measures," the hospital president Song Jae Hoon told reporters.

Seoul city mayor Park Won Soon however warned of potential danger of the outbreak at the hospital - one of the country's largest, visited by more than 8,000 patients a day.

"We are afraid that there is a significant possibility that the outbreak at the Samsung hospital could spread to the local community," Mr Park said on Sunday.

The number of infections rose to 64 after 14 new cases, including one death, of Mers were confirmed on Saturday night, the Health Ministry said. All of the 14 were among a group of 1,820 quarantined until Saturday after being exposed to those diagnosed earlier, it added.

However, Busan city authorities reported an additional case in the country's southern port and second-largest city, sparking alarm that the outbreak may spread nationwide.

The case was not included among the 14 new infections confirmed by the ministry.

Acting Prime Minister Choi Kyung Hwan vowed on Sunday that "all-out efforts" would be made to curb the spread of the disease in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

He urged the public not to panic, saying all 64 patients had already been in hospital. "We can put the situation under control because... the outbreak is not spreading to the outside community," Mr Choi said in a press conference.

"People should not overreact and should cooperate closely (with the government) to minimise negative impact on the economy," he said.

The government will step up monitoring on those placed under observation, including tracking the locations of those in quarantine at home via their mobile phones, Mr Choi said.

"Please understand that it is an inevitable measure to ensure the safety of your neighbours and families," Mr Choi said.