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14 more MERS cases identified in South Korea

SEOUL — The number of South Koreans infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has increased to 64 after the government identified 14 more cases yesterday.

SEOUL — The number of South Koreans infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has increased to 64 after the government identified 14 more cases yesterday.

Officials also released a list of all 24 hospitals the confirmed cases had visited, as they reported a fifth death linked to the virus.

The government’s decision to reveal the names and locations of the 24 hospitals came as critics accused the authorities of stoking a sense of fear and risking a spread of the virus by withholding information.

So far, the confirmed MERS cases have infected others only in six of the 24 hospitals they passed through.

“As the number of patients and people under quarantine continued to increase, the government decided to take strong steps to help ease people’s concerns and fears,” Deputy Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan said during a news conference yesterday, when the names of the hospitals were revealed.

Officials said they had quarantined people who might have come into contact with infected patients at the hospitals.

Until now, the government has repeatedly declined to reveal the names of all the hospitals, insisting that doing so would incite a panic in the neighbourhoods nearby.

However, many of the names have been circulating through social media for several days.

South Korea’s outbreak, the largest reported outside the Middle East, began in St Mary’s Hospital in Pyeongtaek, a city 59.5km south of Seoul, the capital.

The first or so-called index patient, a man who had travelled to the Middle East, was hospitalised at St Mary’s last month. Since then, 35 other cases have been confirmed at the hospital.

The government first identified the Pyeongtaek hospital on Friday, saying it was trying to find and monitor everyone who had been there during a two-week period in May.

Officials fear “a second wave” of infections after one of the patients from St Mary’s checked into the emergency room of Samsung Medical Center in Seoul, one of the largest hospitals in South Korea, on May 27.

So far, 17 cases have been confirmed among the people who spent time at the Samsung hospital’s emergency room, including 10 of the 14 new cases the Health Ministry reported yesterday.

One of the 10 was a 74-year-old man who died on Friday. He was posthumously declared as having MERS, bringing the death toll from the disease in South Korea to five.

As health experts test people who were recently at the Samsung hospital’s emergency room, “they expect more MERS cases to be found” over the next several days, said the Health Ministry in a statement.

More than 1,800 people believed to have been in contact with confirmed patients are being monitored in state-run facilities, or under quarantine at home. Yesterday, Mr Choi said the government planned to assign a public servant to each of those people to ensure a proper quarantine.

It will also monitor their mobile-phone signals so the health authorities will be alerted if any of them breaks quarantine, he said.

Fear of infection has compelled more than 1,160 kindergartens and schools in South Korea to temporarily close.

MERS was first detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The vast majority of the more-than 440 deaths attributed to the disease have occurred in the Middle East.

THE NEW YORK TIMES

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