South Korea reported five new cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on Wednesday, bringing the total to 30. Four of the newly diagnosed patients are believed to have been in close contact with the country's first MERS patient, while the fifth contracted the disease through a tertiary infection.
The first patient had allegedly caught the disease while traveling to the Middle East in April, Yonhap reported, citing the country’s Ministry of Health and Welfare. The newest confirmed case is that of a 60-year-old man, who reportedly received it through a tertiary infection by sharing the same bed as one of the patients diagnosed earlier.
The country has isolated 1,312 people, suspected to have been infected with the disease, for which there is no vaccine yet. The disease has so far killed two people in South Korea, both of whom were diagnosed with MERS posthumously.
"We are now identifying people newly subject to isolation in relation to the latest confirmed cases. Once the process is completed, the number of people in isolation may have multiplied by a significant number," a health ministry official had said earlier, according to Yonhap.
Meanwhile, over 230 schools of the country’s 20,000 reported no-show of students and teachers on Wednesday as the threat of the disease's spread heightened. Of the schools where classes were canceled, 184 were in Gyeonggi Province, where the first case of MERS was reported, according to Yonhap. The rest of the schools were reportedly in North and South Chungcheong Provinces. An elementary school in the capital city of Seoul also shut down until Friday, becoming the first school in the capital city to do so.
South Korea’s Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea on Wednesday called for a thorough effort to prevent the disease from spreading further in schools. The country’s health ministry also said that three of the people diagnosed with MERS were in critical condition. Another three of the 30 patients so far, had recovered and were almost ready to be released.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye also reportedly called for an emergency meeting with related ministers and officials for later Wednesday to analyze the methods used in the country for quarantine. On Wednesday, the country’s defense ministry also set up a task force to curb the spread of the disease, Yonhap reported, adding that the country has decided to immediately quarantine those who show symptoms of the deadly disease.
"The ministry set up an emergency response team Saturday and will run four epidemiological survey teams at the headquarters of the three branches of military service and the medical command," Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said, according to Yonhap, adding: "Many people from different areas gather at boot camps and reservists' training camps, so we've decided to prevent such chances from the outset."
Four of every 10 patients, diagnosed with the disease worldwide since it was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, have died so far. About 1,100 confirmed cases of MERS have been reported globally since 2012, Yonhap reported.