Alerts against South Korea travel as MERS spreads

Hong Kong and Macau issue warnings as WHO begins mission to investigate disease’s biggest outbreak outside Saudi Arabia.

Military officials check the body temperature of visitors at the Defense Ministry in Seoul
Soldiers check the body temperature of visitors at the defence ministry in Seoul in efforts to contain the outbreak [Reuters]

Hong Kong and Macau have issued warnings against travel to South Korea where a seventh person has died from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and another eight new cases have been reported overnight.

The latest cases have brought the total number of people infected to 95, making the South Korean outbreak the biggest outside Saudi Arabia, where the disease was first identified.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s second highest official, announced on Tuesday the country would issue a “red alert” against non-essential travel to South Korea.

A red alert is defined as a “significant threat” according to the Hong Kong government, and means people should “adjust travel plans” and “avoid non-essential travel”.

The Chinese territory of Macau also advised residents to avoid travel to South Korea unless absolutely necessary, and said it would require people entering local healthcare facilities to wear masks as a precaution against MERS.

WHO begins mission

Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Seoul, said the latest victim was typical of many of the people affected by the virus and had presented at a Seoul hospital.

“She had chronic heart disease and she presented with breathing problems at the hospital on May 27 and May 28 when she came into contact with somebody there who had already contracted the disease, patient number 14 in this outbreak,” he said.

What is MERS?

Also on Tuesday, a team from the World Health Organization began work on a joint mission with South Korean doctors and officials to review the country’s response and analyse the virus.

Our correspondent said WHO officials had already met the vice health minister and would meet officials at the centre for disease control “as they try to establish why this outbreak appears to have spread so much more quickly and so much further than it has in other parts of the world”.

“It is apparently so far just a hospital outbreak contracted by patents in a hospital setting. Officials here are saying that Monday may have been the peak of this virus and the number of new cases will decline from now on,” he said.

The number of new Korean cases reported on Tuesday was a sharp drop from 23 on Monday but the number of schools closed grew to 2,199, including 19 universities.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has called for a national effort to eradicate the outbreak, which has been spreading since a 68-year-old businessman brought it home from a Middle East trip last month.

Subsequent infections

All subsequent infections in South Korea have occurred in healthcare facilities and been traced to the original patient.

A woman wearing masks to prevent contracting Middle East Respiratory S [Reuters]
A woman wearing masks to prevent contracting Middle East Respiratory S [Reuters]

More than 2,000 people have been placed in quarantine.

Jeong Eun-kyeong from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention told Al Jazeera on Monday that the government was trying to monitor people suspected of being infected after reports that some people were ignoring instructions to isolate themselves.

“We did cellphone tracking in a couple of cases. For those we need to find we will request location tracking and get the data,” Jeong said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies