South Korea says everything must be done to halt MERS

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South Korea Sets Up Quarantine Zones As MERS Virus Spreads

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Wednesday everything must be done to stop Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) as fear of the disease shut hundreds of schools and led to corporate giant Samsung calling off a staff conference.

Five more cases were confirmed on Wednesday taking to 30 the number infected in South Korea since the outbreak began there two weeks ago. Two people have died, fuelling fear in the country with the most cases outside the Middle East, where the disease first appeared.

While there has been no sustained human-to-human transmission, the nightmare scenario is the virus changes and spreads rapidly, as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) did in 2002-2003 killing about 800 people around the world.

MERS was first identified in humans in 2012 and is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that triggered SARS. But MERS has a much higher death rate at 38 percent, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures.

The WHO puts the total number of MERS cases globally at 1,161, with at least 436 related deaths, the vast majority in the Middle East. There is no cure or vaccine.

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South Korea says everything must be done to halt MERS
A woman wearing a face mask walks past an electronic board at an arrival gate of Gimpo international airport in Seoul on June 17, 2015. South Korea on June 17 announced its 20th death from the MERS virus as criticism grew of efforts to contain the outbreak, with alarming reports of new cases slipping through a quarantine that already affects thousands. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean workers spray antiseptic solution at the customs, immigration and quarantine office (CIQ) of Gimpo international airport in Seoul on June 17, 2015. South Korea on June 17 announced its 20th death from the MERS virus as criticism grew of efforts to contain the outbreak, with alarming reports of new cases slipping through a quarantine that already affects thousands. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 16: Disinfection workers wearing protective clothing spray anti-septic solution in an karaoke amid rising public concerns over the spread of MERS virus on June 16, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea has reported 19 deaths from Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and the total number of people diagnosed with the disease is 154 as of June 16, 2015. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 16: Disinfection workers wearing protective clothing spray anti-septic solution in an karaoke amid rising public concerns over the spread of MERS virus on June 16, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea has reported 19 deaths from Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and the total number of people diagnosed with the disease is 154 as of June 16, 2015. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean workers wearing protective gear fumigate a theater at the Sejong Culture Center in Seoul on June 16, 2015. South Korea on June 16 reported three more fatalities from MERS, taking the country's death toll from the outbreak to 19 as four new cases were confirmed, the health ministry said. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
Two women wearing face masks look at a map as they stand on a street in the popular Myeongdong shopping district in Seoul on June 15, 2015. South Korea reported on June 15, two more deaths and five new cases in the growing outbreak of MERS which has placed more than 5,200 people under quarantine and sparked widespread alarm. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean health officials fumigate a theater while wearing protective gear in Seoul on June 12, 2015. South Korea on June 12, reported four more cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), bringing to 126 the total number of people diagnosed with the potentially deadly virus. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
GOYANG, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 09: A disinfection worker wearing protective gear spray anti-septic solution in an subway amid rising public concerns over the spread of MERS virus at Seoul metro railway base on June 9, 2015 in Goyang, South Korea. South Korea has reported eighth death, 2,892 quarantined, and 1800 schools closed as of June 9, 2015. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
GOYANG, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 09: Disinfection workers wearing protective gears spray anti-septic solution in an subway amid rising public concerns over the spread of MERS virus at Seoul metro railway base on June 9, 2015 in Goyang, South Korea. South Korea has reported eighth death, 2,892 quarantined, and 1800 schools closed as of June 9, 2015. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean medical workers in full protective gear walk past in front of the emergency section at the Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul on June 11, 2015. South Korea's outbreak of the potentially deadly MERS virus on June 11 forced the central bank to cut its key interest rate to ward off greater economic damage, as retailers report a slump in business. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows the Seoul city skyline facing South East towards the Han river (C) on June 11, 2015. South Korea's outbreak of the potentially deadly MERS virus on June 11 forced the central bank to cut its key interest rate to ward off greater economic damage, as retailers report a slump in business. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
A man wearing a face mask checks his reflection on a building in an alleyway in Seoul on June 9, 2015. South Korea on June 9 reported its seventh death from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) as the government -- concerned about the economic impact -- said it hoped to end the crisis this week. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 09: Elementary school students wear masks as a precaution against the MERS virus as they wait for a lesson to start at Midong Elementary School on June 9, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea has reported eight deaths related to the virus with 2,500 people quarantined and 1,800 schools closed as of June 9, 2015. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
A couple wearing face masks walk on a street in the popular student area of Hongdae in Seoul on June 7, 2015. South Korea reported its fifth death from MERS as the government on June 7 vowed 'all-out' measures to curb the outbreak that was threatening to spread nationwide, including tracking mobile phones of those in quarantine. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
A student has her temperature taken by a teacher outside the Sungshin elementary school in Seoul on June 8, 2015. South Korea recorded its sixth death and biggest single day jump in Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) infections, with 23 new cases in the largest outbreak of the potentially deadly virus outside Saudi Arabia. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Airport personnel wait for passengers to check their temperature as part of preventive measures against the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) at the Hong Kong international airport on June 5, 2015. Meanwhile, South Korea reported a fourth MERS case, as an infected doctor fuelled fears of a fresh surge in cases and prompted Seoul's mayor to declare 'war' on the virus. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Passengers get their temperature checked as part of preventive measures against the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) at the Hong Kong international airport on June 5, 2015. Meanwhile, South Korea reported a fourth MERS case, as an infected doctor fuelled fears of a fresh surge in cases and prompted Seoul's mayor to declare 'war' on the virus. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Tourists wearing face masks look at a map as they stand in the popular Myeongdong shopping area in Seoul on June 4, 2015. The Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) reported that around 7,000 tourists -- mostly from China and Taiwan -- had cancelled planned group trips to South Korea, citing the MERS outbreak as the main reason, a KTO spokesman said. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Volunteer tourist assistants wearing face masks gather in the popular Myeongdong shopping area in Seoul on June 4, 2015. The Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) reported that around 7,000 tourists -- mostly from China and Taiwan -- had cancelled planned group trips to South Korea, citing the MERS outbreak as the main reason, a KTO spokesman said. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on June 3, 2015 a woman wearing a face mask walks past Gyeongbokgung palace in Seoul. Hundreds more schools closed in South Korea as officials struggled to ease growing panic over an outbreak of the MERS virus that has infected 35 people, killed two and caused thousands to cancel travel plans. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 04: Tourists wear masks as a precaution against the MERS virus at the Gyeongbok palace on June 4, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. Two deaths from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) have been confirmed on June 2, 2015, and the number of confirmed local patients have risen to 35 as of June 4, 2015. More than 700 schools from kindergartens to colleges have been closed. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean school students wear face masks during a special class on MERS virus at an elementary school in Seoul on June 3, 2015. South Korea on June 2 reported its first deaths from an outbreak of the MERS virus that has infected 25 people, caused widespread alarm and triggered a closer watch by Asian neighbours on Korean arrivals. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman wearing a face mask crosses a street in Seoul on June 3, 2015. More than 200 primary schools shut down as South Korea struggled to contain an outbreak of the MERS virus that has infected 30, killed two and triggered widespread fear. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean school workers spray sanitizer on hands of students to protect against possible MERS virus at an elementary school in Seoul on June 3, 2015. South Korea on June 2 reported its first deaths from an outbreak of the MERS virus that has infected 25 people, caused widespread alarm and triggered a closer watch by Asian neighbours on Korean arrivals. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean hospital workers set a separated emergency center for MERS cases at the National Medical Center in Seoul on June 1, 2015. South Korean President Park Geun-Hye scolded health officials on June 1, over their response to an outbreak of the MERS virus, as the number of infections climbed to 18, with nearly 700 under observation. Major South Korean hospitals are setting up special MERS clinic rooms to fight the disease. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean hospital workers carry transport a man in front of a quarantine tent for suspected MERS cases at the Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul on June 2, 2015. South Korea's health ministry confirmed that two people have died from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the country's first fatalities from the virus.AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 02: A woman and her young baby wear masks as a precaution against the MERS virus on June 2, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. The Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea confirmed two deaths from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on June 2, 2015. It reported six new cases of MERS, raising the number of confirmed local patients to 25. The first case was confirmed on May 20. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 02: People wear masks as a precaution against the MERS virus on June 2, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. The Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea confirmed two deaths from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on June 2, 2015. It reported six new cases of MERS, raising the number of confirmed local patients to 25. The first case was confirmed on May 20. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
A man wearing a face mask walks through a market in Seoul on June 1, 2015. South Korean President Park Geun-Hye scolded health officials over their 'insufficient' response to an outbreak of the MERS virus, as the number of infections climbed to 18, with nearly 700 under observation. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean school workers spray sanitizer on hands of students to protect against possible MERS virus at an elementary school in Seoul on June 3, 2015. South Korea on June 2 reported its first deaths from an outbreak of the MERS virus that has infected 25 people, caused widespread alarm and triggered a closer watch by Asian neighbours on Korean arrivals. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean school students wear face masks to protect against possible MERS virus at an elementary school in Seoul on June 3, 2015. South Korea on June 2 reported its first deaths from an outbreak of the MERS virus that has infected 25 people, caused widespread alarm and triggered a closer watch by Asian neighbours on Korean arrivals. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A South Korean school worker sprays sanitizer on hands of students to protect against possible MERS virus at an elementary school in Seoul on June 3, 2015. South Korea on June 2 reported its first deaths from an outbreak of the MERS virus that has infected 25 people, caused widespread alarm and triggered a closer watch by Asian neighbours on Korean arrivals. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 02: A hospital worker wearing mask near a quarantine tent for people who could be infected with the MERS virus at Seoul National University Hospital on June 2, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. The Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea confirmed two deaths from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on June 2, 2015. It reported six new cases of MERS, raising the number of confirmed local patients to 25. The first case was confirmed on May 20. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean school students put on face masks during a special class on MERS virus at an elementary school in Seoul on June 3, 2015. South Korea on June 2 reported its first deaths from an outbreak of the MERS virus that has infected 25 people, caused widespread alarm and triggered a closer watch by Asian neighbours on Korean arrivals. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 02: A hospital worker wearing mask near a quarantine tent for people who could be infected with the MERS virus at Seoul National University Hospital on June 2, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. The Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea confirmed two deaths from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on June 2, 2015. It reported six new cases of MERS, raising the number of confirmed local patients to 25. The first case was confirmed on May 20. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 02: People wear masks as a precaution against the MERS virus on June 2, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. The Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea confirmed two deaths from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on June 2, 2015. It reported six new cases of MERS, raising the number of confirmed local patients to 25. The first case was confirmed on May 20. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 02: Hospital workers wearing masks to protect them from the MERS virus near a quarantine tent for people who could be infected with the MERS virus at Seoul National University Hospital on June 2, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. The Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea confirmed two deaths from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on June 2, 2015. It reported six new cases of MERS, raising the number of confirmed local patients to 25. The first case was confirmed on May 20. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
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"There are a lot people worried about the situation," Park told an emergency meeting of ministers and top officials.

"Everything must be done to stop any further spread."

More than 200 schools were shut on Wednesday, most of them in the province of Gyeonggi, around Seoul, where the first death occurred on Monday.

South Korea has quarantined or isolated about 1,300 people for possible MERS infection.

A spokesman of Samsung Group [SAGR.UL], South Korea's top conglomerate, said an orientation conference for new staff scheduled for this week has been postponed in accordance with government instructions on public safety.

Media in the region has reported tourists cancelling visits to South Korea.

Though the WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions, South Korean border control authorities have put a ban on overseas travel for people isolated for possible infection, a health ministry official said.

China last week reported its first MERS case, that of a South Korean man who tested positive after breaking a voluntary house quarantine and traveling to Hong Kong and on to mainland China.

PRESSURE GROWING

South Korea reported its first two deaths from MERS on Tuesday.

Of the five new cases, four had been in the same hospital as the first patient, a 68-year-old man who had just returned from a trip to four countries in the Middle East. The other, a 60-year-old man, caught it from another infected person.

Media said health authorities were conducting tests on an elderly patient who died on Sunday after sharing the same hospital ward with one of the two MERS-infected people who had died. Officials said it was likely she died of existing illness.

The new cases would bring the total number globally to 1,166, based on World Health Organization (WHO) data, with at least 436 related deaths.

Pressure is growing for the government to identify the hospitals treating infected patients as fear and confusion mount.

Public health authorities have insisted it was "helpful" to keep the names of the hospitals from the public, but in an opinion poll published on Wednesday 83 percent of respondents demanded that the government identify them.

Ian Jones, a specialist virologist at Britain's University of Reading who has followed MERS since it emerged, said transparency would help in the effort to stop the outbreak.

"Being open about the cases, their locations and their condition, is best for control - even if this causes some alarm in the short term," he said.

Some experts have said the 38 percent death rate from MERS might be overstated as patients with little or no symptoms might go undetected. The death rate from SARS was 9 to 12 percent, rising to more than 50 percent for patients over 65.

Symptoms of MERS can include cough, fever and shortness of breath. It can lead to respiratory failure, the WHO said.

(Additional reporting by Sohee Kim and Se Young Lee in SEOUL; Writing by Tony Munroeand Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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