SEOUL, July 24 (UPI) -- South Korea is preparing to declare an end to the MERS outbreak that led to the quarantine of thousands of people, but the epidemic has taken a toll on the economy.
Seoul officials said Friday the country is ready to announce the end of the viral contagion that killed 36 people and infected a total of 186 patients, Yonhap reported.
But in compliance with World Health Organization rules, they are waiting for at least 28 days after the last patient has fully recovered.
Only one South Korean patient remained in isolation Friday – and the remaining 11 in hospital have tested negative for the disease.
South Korea declared a nationwide emergency after its first MERS case was reported on May 20. The virus spread quickly, and in response hospitals placed about 16,700 suspected patients in quarantine, the vast majority of whom were uninfected.
Life, however, is returning to normal.
"[The government] is expected to announce a statement telling people that it is now safe to return to their normal daily lives," an identified official told Yonhap.
Seoul may be anxious to return to business as usual – the spread of the MERS virus brought cross-border tourism to a near standstill, and consumer sentiment plunged in Asia's fourth-largest economy, according to CNBC.
During the MERS crisis, South Korea announced the release of a $19.8 billion stimulus package to help local businesses.
The economy grew at the slowest pace year on year, and in the April-June period grew 0.3 percent, less than forecast, and down from 0.8 percent in the first quarter.
Economists told CNBC a return to recovery is expected with the end of the MERS outbreak, but others said a slowdown in China's growth could have a negative impact.