South Korea gripped by fear of MERS coronavirus

The scale of quarantines, however, has helped to slow the pace of the epidemic and the number of cases confirmed.
By Elizabeth Shim  |  June 5, 2015 at 1:05 PM
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SEOUL, June 5 (UPI) -- Public alarm and government oversight in South Korea has stimulated overblown fear of the MERS coronavirus in South Korea.

The 42 confirmed cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in Asia's fourth-largest economy has placed South Korea's health authorities on high alert. As of Friday, 1,800 people were placed in self-isolation, according to South Korean television network KBS, and the epidemic has claimed four lives.

The scale of quarantines has helped to slow the pace of the epidemic and the number of cases confirmed.

News the disease can travel from camels to humans, however, have led to unnecessary measures, such as the quarantine of two camels at a Seoul zoo on Thursday, Yonhap reported.

South Korea's Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency said the camels tested negative for MERS and were released from quarantine on Friday, just in time for the weekend. Major public events planned at the zoo, however, have either been canceled or postponed.

South Korean retail also has been badly hit by the fear of the MERS coronavirus, which spreads through close contact and in healthcare settings, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Brick-and-mortar stores were relatively empty, Yonhap reported, and popular shopping districts were not as crowded with foreign tourists.

A major department store in Seoul said sales were down 8.4 percent from a year earlier for the first week of June, and a restaurant owner in Ilsan, Gyeonggi province said she has received scores of cancellation on group dinners.

The lack of familiarity with the disease has caused South Korea's Health Ministry to take what critics regard as serious missteps that has included withholding of key information from the public.

Seoul refrained from naming Pyeongtaek St Mary's Hospital in Gyeonggi province, where patient zero was hospitalized until Friday, a move that has drawn the ire of the South Korean public.

MERS transmission requires personal contact with the virus, but information about the disease is causing many South Koreans to don face masks during outings, or avoid going outdoors.

The CDC recommends 20 seconds of hand washing with soap and water after outings, and covering nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

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