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Inter-Korean Complex Gears Up to Fight MERS

A woman wears a mask as a precaution against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in Seoul, South Korea, June 11, 2015.

South Korean companies at the Kaesong Industrial Complex have begun distributing masks to North Korean workers at the inter-Korean complex amid growing concern over MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

South Korean officials are running three thermal scanners at the complex to monitor South Korean visitors and the workers. About 1,000 South Koreans travel to and from the facility each day.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Thursday the government is taking preventive measures to keep the virus from spreading into the complex. As of Thursday, there has been no outbreak in the complex, and the North has not restricted South Koreans’ visit to the park, according to the ministry.

A ministry official told the VOA Korean service that at least two companies have distributed some 400 masks to the workers and other companies are poised to follow suit. With approximately 53,000 workers at the complex, the companies will spend about $90,000 on just one round of mask distribution.

Last week, the Central Special Development Guidance Bureau, the North Korean body in charge of running the complex, requested that the South provide quarantine equipment and masks. The South accepted the request.

The disease has sparked widespread fear in the South, taking an economic toll in the country. Retailers are reporting a slump and South Korea’s central bank unexpectedly cut interest rates Thursday in an attempt to guard against further damage.

On Wednesday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye postponed a scheduled visit to the United States to deal with the MERS outbreak. Park was to have met in Washington next week with President Barack Obama.

The outbreak is the biggest outside of Saudi Arabia, where the virus was first detected in 2012. As of Thursday, the outbreak had killed 10 people. More than 120 others have been infected with the virus.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.