South Korea’s health ministry on Friday reported two more fatalities from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, also known as MERS. The deadly disease has now claimed 31 lives since the outbreak began spreading in the country last month.
The two most recent deaths were people who had existing health problems before they were exposed to MERS, the health ministry said. It also confirmed one additional case of the disease, which brought the total number of infected people to 181 Friday. Those who have died after being infected with MERS were mostly elderly people and those with previous health conditions, according to the health ministry.
The announcement comes a day after Seoul unveiled a $13.5 billion stimulus package to support businesses that had suffered in the wake of the outbreak. Consumer spending fell in June and more than 120,000 tourists have cancelled trips to the country since MERS was first diagnosed in South Korea on May 20, the finance ministry said Wednesday. Earlier this month, South Korea’s central bank cut its key interest rate to offset negative economic effects.
“The economy is being weighed down by MERS, which has seriously hurt consumption and the service sector,” Finance Minister Choi Kyung-Hwan said Wednesday.
The MERS outbreak in South Korea is the largest to hit a country outside of the Middle East, and officials have scrambled to contain the disease. Earlier this week, two major hospitals in Seoul instituted a partial shutdown of services in order to stem the spread. Meanwhile, the government has ordered all hospitals to monitor people who enter emergency wards, saying the tracking of emergency room visitors has been one of the largest difficulties so far.
MERS is thought to have originated in Saudi Arabia, and has infected more than 1,000 people there, out of a total of about 1,330 worldwide, since 2012. Thailand reported its first case of MERS last week but hasn’t reported any additional cases since then.