South Korea reports 5 more cases of Mers; total number now 30

South Korean hospital workers wheeling a man in front of a quarantine tent for suspected Mers cases at the Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul on June 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
South Korean hospital workers wheeling a man in front of a quarantine tent for suspected Mers cases at the Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul on June 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea confirmed five more cases of Middle East Respiratory Virus (Mers), the health ministry said early Wednesday, bringing to 30 the total number of cases in the country.

Of the five new cases, four had been in the same hospital as the first patient, a 68-year-old man who had recently travelled to four countries in the Middle East. The fifth case - a 60-year-old man - caught it from another person infected in the outbreak.

As of Wednesday, 209 schools have suspended or closed classes nationwide to prevent infection of students, according to local reports.

South Korea has isolated about 750 people for possible Mers infection, which is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that triggered the deadly 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).

The country on Tuesday reported its first two deaths from Mers since the first confirmed case two weeks ago, fuelling worry about the spread of the virus in the country, which has reported the most cases of the illness outside the Middle East.

The new cases would bring the total number globally to 1,166, based on earlier World Health Organisation (WHO) data, with at least 436 related deaths.

The WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions for South Korea, although South Korean border control authorities have put a ban on overseas travel for people isolated for possible infection, a health ministry official said.

Government health officials have been criticised for being slow to respond to the outbreak.

Mers has a much higher death rate than Sars and there is no cure or vaccine. The death rate from Mers, first identified in humans in 2012, has been 38 per cent, according to WHO figures, with older patients and those with existing respiratory and renal ailments at greater risk, according to a South Korean doctor.

However, experts said that figure may overstate the fatality rate as patients with little or no symptoms might go undetected.

By comparison, the death rate from Sars was 9 to 12 per cent, rising above 50 per cent for patients over 65, according to the US National Library of Medicine.