S Korea to jail people defying MERS quarantine measures

New laws allow up to two-year prison terms and $18,000 fines for those who defy restrictions, as new deaths reported.

The new laws were passed as South Korea's MERS death toll rose to 31 [AFP]

South Korea has passed laws that will allow it to jail people who defy quarantine or anti-infection measures in a new push to curb its outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Under the new legislation, passed in the country’s parliament late on Thursday, people infected with MERS who lie to state investigators about how they came into contact with the disease will face up to two years in prison or fines of up to $18,000.

The new law also strengthens officials’ power to restrict the movement of infected people and close contaminated facilities, with offenders who refuse to follow their orders also facing the same penalties.

Infographic: The spread of MERS

“Interviewees will [now] feel compelled to provide honest answers,” a transcript of the law said.

Earlier this week, two major hospitals in South Korea’s capital suspended services to patients in a bid to stop the spread of the disease, after new cases of the virus were reported.

Explained: What is MERS?

The laws were passed as the death toll from the country’s outbreak of the virus, the largest outside Saudi Arabia, rose to 31 people, with 191 people infected.

South Korea’s two latest fatalities, reported on Friday, were both women, aged 79 and 80, who had pre-existing health conditions. 

China’s only patient recovers

The passage of the new laws also came as South Korea’s health ministry announced that one of its nationals, who became China’s only case of MERS infection, had fully recovered and was to be released from a Chinese hospital on Friday.

The 44-year-old man, whose father is another MERS patient, had defied recommendations from health authorities in South Korea to remain in voluntary quarantine, flying to Hong Kong in late May before taking a bus to mainland China.

He later tested positive for the virus and had been hospitalised in the Chinese city of Huizhou, where his initially unstable condition gradually improved, the ministry said.

There have been no other MERS case reported in China or Hong Kong.

A doctor at Seoul’s Samsung Medical Center, the hospital to which nearly half of all infections have been traced, was also confirmed to have contracted the disease. The Samsung facility was one of the hospitals to close many of its facilities indefinitely earlier this week.

Source: AFP, Reuters