South Korea Declares Itself Free of MERS Danger

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

South Korea on Tuesday declared a de facto end to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak that has killed 36 lives and infected 186 people since May, reports Agence France-Presse.

Addressing a meeting of government officials in Seoul, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said there has been no new MERS case in the past 23 days, adding that the last potential patient released from quarantine earlier this week.

“After weighing various circumstances, the medical personnel and the government judge that the people can now be free from worry,” Hwang said. “I ask the public to shake off all concerns over MERS and to resume normal daily activities, including economic, cultural, leisure and school activities.”

More than 16,000 people were quarantined in hospitals and homes during South Korea’s MERS outbreak, the biggest of the virus outside Saudi Arabia. Thousands of schools in the Seoul were closed at the peak of the outbreak.

South Korea’s tourism industry was hit particularly hard by the spread of the disease, with the number of foreign visitors plummeting by over 40 percent in June compared to last year’s statistics.

Although MERS is considered to spread poorly, experts claim that South Korea’s crowded emergency rooms and patients’ habit of “doctor shopping“— the practice of seeking care at multiple hospitals to treat the same illness—may have contributed to the widespread transmission.

According to the Korea Herald, the Korean health ministry announced on Tuesday that it will now require all hospital visitors at medical facilities to register upon entry in order to reduce the risk of hospital-to-hospital transmission. It will also establish a new system that offers care that is usually provided by the patients’ family members.

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