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South Korea's Park Cancels US Visit Over MERS Concerns

South Korea's President Park Geun-hye, June 6, 2013 file photo.
South Korea's President Park Geun-hye, June 6, 2013 file photo.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has postponed next week's planned visit to the United States to help her country deal with an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS.

The president's office said Park will reschedule the trip to Washington, where she was to hold talks with President Barack Obama. It is not known when the trip will be rescheduled.

Seoul on Wednesday confirmed two more deaths as a result of the MERS outbreak, bringing the total number of fatalities to nine. Both victims, who were in their 60s and 70s, already had pre-existing ailments, officials said.

Thirteen new cases of MERS infections were also reported, expanding the number of known cases to 108. Officials stressed that all the infections were limited to hospitals.

In Hong Kong, stocks tumbled about a percent Wednesday after a 22-year-old woman who recently had visited South Korea was rushed to the hospital with a fever and runny nose. The woman is in isolation at a Hong Kong medical facility, where officials say she is in stable condition and undergoing tests.

Hong Kong this week issued a travel alert for its citizens heading to South Korea. Other governments in the region have also cautioned their citizens about travel there and say to be on the lookout for flu-like symptoms.

There is no vaccine or cure for the disease, which was brought to South Korea last month by a 68-year-old businessman who had traveled to Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries.

South Korean Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo says he is hopeful the virus peaked on Monday and that the outbreak will be brought under control within days.

The outbreak has led to more than 2,500 people being placed under quarantine for suspected contact with MERS patients. Health officials say they are tracking the quarantined people's cell phone signals to make sure they abide by the quarantine measures.

South Korea also has closed down nearly 2,000 schools in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

Experts from the World Health Organization on Wednesday urged South Korea to reopen the schools, saying education facilities have not been linked to transmission of the disease.

Seoul officials believe the infection has not spread outside hospitals. The U.N. also has stressed there is no evidence of "sustained transmission in the community."

Still, many South Koreans were rattled by the outbreak and have been reluctant to gather in crowded public spaces. Tourism has also slowed, since many surrounding countries have warned their citizens against traveling to South Korea.

MERS, a 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.

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