2 S. Korean hospitals shut over MERS fears; 13th person dies

Published 10:15 am Friday, June 12, 2015

SEOUL, South Korea — Authorities in South Korea temporarily closed two hospitals amid persistent fears over the MERS virus outbreak, which has killed 13 people through Friday, though health officials said they are seeing fewer new infections.

More than 120 people in South Korea have been diagnosed with Middle East respiratory syndrome since the country reported its first case last month. The outbreak, the largest outside Saudi Arabia, has been occurring only in hospitals, among patients, family members who visited them and medical staff treating them. Still, it has caused widespread fears and rumors, and about 2,900 schools and kindergartens remained closed Friday.

South Korean officials have hoped the disease would begin to ease since the virus’ maximum two-week incubation period for those infected at a Seoul hospital considered as the main source of the outbreak ended Friday. However, several hospitals have treated MERS patients, and the later incubation periods for them is raising worries of possible new sources of infections.

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Mediheal Hospital in western Seoul and Changwon SK Hospital in the southern city of Changwon were ordered to temporarily shut down after MERS patients were found to have had contact with hundreds of people there before they were diagnosed, according to officials at Seoul and Changwon.

There are currently no MERS patients at the two hospitals, but dozens of medical staff and existing patients are quarantined at the facilities. Mediheal is to reopen on June 23, and Changwon SK on June 24, city officials said.

Central government officials say there is little chance of the virus spreading from those hospitals because they are quarantining people who had contacts with infected people and monitoring them.