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MERS Forces Limited Operations at Seoul Hospital

  • VOA News

South Korean health workers from a community health center wearing masks as a precaution against MERS wait to check examinees' temperature at a test site for a civil service examination in Seoul, 13 June, 2015.

South Korean health workers from a community health center wearing masks as a precaution against MERS wait to check examinees' temperature at a test site for a civil service examination in Seoul, 13 June, 2015.

One of South Korea's largest, most prestigious hospitals in the capital, Seoul, has partially suspended operations after the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome took foothold in the facility.

Samsung Hospital president Song Jae-hoon told a televised news conference on Sunday that the hospital would suspend all non-emergency surgeries and not accept new patients. He said no visitors will be allowed, and added that he would decide on June 24 whether to continue the suspension.

The news came as the Health Ministry reported seven new MERS cases, four of them in Samsung Hospital. One of those suspected to have contracted the disease was a South Korean businessman who was hospitalized Saturday in the Slovak capital, Bratislava.

"We were alerted to the situation [South Korean national in Bratislava, Slovakia, who is suspected of carrying MERS] and we are still in the process of finding out what happened. There are focal points, such as the WHO (World Health Organization), which are designated in other countries. We will try to find out what really happened by sharing information through these focal points," said Jeong Eun-kyeong, Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A team of World Health Organization experts said on Saturday that although the number of MERS infections was declining, the outbreak was "large and complex" and more cases should be expected.

Since the first case was identified on May 20, 145 people have been confirmed to have the virus, and 14 people have died, including an ambulance driver who transported one of the patients.

Thousands thought to have come into contact with infected individuals have been placed under quarantine and thousands of schools remain closed due to the outbreak.

The Health Ministry said on Saturday that all of the 14 people who died from MERS had pre-existing health conditions.

Health officials say that as of Friday, 1,249 people had been released from isolation, sparking hope that the spread of the disease is slowing.

The outbreak has prompted President Park Geun-hye to postpone this week's planned visit to the United States.

Fears over the virus have also spread to other parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, which this week issued a "red alert" advising against non-essential travel to South Korea.

Public alarm has been widespread, in part because of false online rumors and also because MERS symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath - all of which are typically associated with non-serious illnesses such as the common cold.

There is no vaccine or cure for MERS, which has a fatality rate of around 35 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

The coronavirus is related to the one that infected thousands during the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has spread to several other countries.

Some material for this report came from AP, AFP and Reuters.

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