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S Korea reports three MERS deaths as new cases fall

South Korea 1

Seoul:  South Korea today reported three more fatalities from the MERS outbreak but health authorities said they were cautiously optimistic the worst was over as the number of new cases was falling.

Four new cases were confirmed today, bringing to 154 the total number of confirmed cases with 19 deaths in what has become the largest outbreak of the virus outside Saudi Arabia.

Of the 154 people, 17 were cured and released from hospital, the health ministry said.

The number of new cases has been gradually declining from 12 on Friday to four today, sparking hopes that the outbreak might be showing early signs of easing.

“What is noteworthy is the fact that the number of new cases has been falling over the past few days,” a senior health ministry official told journalists.

“More cases are expected to occur sporadically but we don’t expect to see new cases occur in groups,” he said.

Of the 118 being treated, 16 are listed in unstable condition while most of the fatalities had pre-existing health problems.

A 49-year-old man was the youngest to die from the respiratory illness but the ministry said he had been suffering from liver cirrhosis and diabetes.

Three of the four new cases were traced to Samsung Medical Centre, one of the two epicentres of the outbreak.

Almost half of confirmed cases have been traced to the hospital, one of the most prestigious in South Korea, forcing it to temporarily shut down services on Sunday.

Pyeongtaek St Mary’s Hospital, which has been closed after being traced with the second largest group of patients, plans to reopen late this month as no more cases have been tracked down to the facility in Pyeongtaek City, 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Seoul.

The ministry has set up telephone hotlines for foreigners living in South Korea, urging them to report to authorities should they develop symptoms and promising compensation if they have to be placed under quarantine, even if they are illegal immigrants.

The Seoul city government today launched a massive disinfection campaign, fumigating thousands of online game parlours and karaoke bars and distributing tens of thousands of hand disinfectant gels to them.

Seoul mayor Park Won-Soon has criticised the central government for mishandling the outbreak in the initial stages and ordered aggressive preventive measures.

President Park Geun-Hye’s approval ratings have plunged by 10 percentage points to 34.6 per cent over the past two weeks in the aftermath of the outbreak, according to a Realmeter poll.

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