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South Korea reports seven new MERS cases

world Updated: Jun 14, 2015 12:40 IST

South Korea reported on Sunday seven new cases of the MERS virus in an outbreak that has killed 14 people, as one citizen was hospitalised in Slovakia after being suspected of carrying the disease to Slovakia.

The new cases put the total number of infections of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in South Korea at 145, the health ministry said.

Four of the new cases were infected in Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul, one of the country's largest hospitals where more than 70 people have contracted the virus, it said.

Separately a paramedic who helped transport a MERS patient to the hospital on June 7 was infected. On Saturday, authorities announced that the ambulance driver also involved in transporting the patient -- who died three days later -- had also been infected.

One of the other new patients was infected in the central city of Daejeon and another in Hwaseong, about 43 km south of Seoul.

The ministry reported no new fatalities, and said 10 patients so far had recovered and been released from hospital.

In order to prevent further infections among patients and medical staff, Samsung hospital on Sunday temporarily suspended most of its operations.

It will stop treating outpatients, admitting new patients, or performing surgeries that are not deemed urgent, hospital president Song Jae-Hoon told reporters.

No visitors will be allowed, he said, adding he would decide on June 24 whether or not to continue the partial suspension.

"We offer our deep apology and express regret to all of our patients who were infected here and those placed under quarantine," he said.

The number of people who came into contact with patients and were put under quarantine -- either at state facilities or at home -- rose on Sunday by more than 800 to 4,856.

As the outbreak continued to expand, a South Korean man thought to have contracted MERS was hospitalised in the Slovak capital Bratislava on Saturday.

The man reportedly arrived in Slovakia on June 3 and works for a subcontractor of Seoul carmaker Kia, which runs a plant in the central European country.

There is no vaccine or cure for MERS which, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data, has a fatality rate of around 35%.

The outbreak in South Korea -- the largest outside Saudi Arabia -- began when a 68-year-old man was diagnosed on May 20 after a trip to Saudi

The virus has since been spreading at an unusually fast pace, sparking widespread alarm in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

A team of WHO experts who visited Seoul warned that the outbreak in the South was "large and complex" and more cases should be expected.
But it also said it had found no evidence of transmission of the virus in communities outside hospitals.

The outbreak also sparked alarm elsewhere in Asia including Hong Kong, which last week advised its citizens to avoid non-essential travel to South Korea.