2 S. Korean hospitals shut over MERS fears; 13th person dies

WHO: South Korea Has Taken 'Important Steps' to Contain MERS

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Authorities in South Korea temporarily closed two hospitals amid persistent fears over the MERS virus outbreak, which has killed 13 people through Friday, though health officials said they are seeing fewer new infections.

More than 120 people in South Korea have been diagnosed with Middle East respiratory syndrome since the country reported its first case last month. The outbreak, the largest outside Saudi Arabia, has been occurring only in hospitals, among patients, family members who visited them and medical staff treating them. Still, it has caused widespread fears and rumors, and about 2,900 schools and kindergartens remained closed Friday.

South Korean officials have hoped the disease would begin to ease since the virus' maximum two-week incubation period for those infected at a Seoul hospital considered as the main source of the outbreak ended Friday. However, several hospitals have treated MERS patients, and the later incubation periods for them is raising worries of possible new sources of infections.


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2 S. Korean hospitals shut over MERS fears; 13th person dies
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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Mediheal Hospital in western Seoul and Changwon SK Hospital in the southern city of Changwon were ordered to temporarily shut down after MERS patients were found to have had contact with hundreds of people there before they were diagnosed, according to officials at Seoul and Changwon.

There are currently no MERS patients at the two hospitals, but dozens of medical staff and existing patients are quarantined at the facilities. Mediheal is to reopen on June 23, and Changwon SK on June 24, city officials said.

Central government officials say there is little chance of the virus spreading from those hospitals because they are quarantining people who had contacts with infected people and monitoring them.

"We see no danger of an additional spread," Jeong Eun-kyeong, a senior official from the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news conference. She said only a small number of new infections could still be reported from those hospitals.

Some experts have said the outbreak could continue if there are a large number of infected people who evaded government quarantine measures and spread the virus.

The Health Ministry reported just four new cases on Friday, after registering 14 Thursday and 13 on Wednesday. About 3,680 people were still isolated on Friday after possible contacts with infected people, a decline from more than 3,800 on Thursday, according to the ministry.

Senior ministry official Kwon Deok-cheol told the news conference that the public should stop worrying too much about the outbreak as the number of new cases has been falling.

Most of the deaths have been of people suffering from pre-existing medical conditions, such as respiratory problems or cancer.

Three MERS patients in their 70s died on Friday, raising the country's number of MERS-related deaths to 13. The three had suffered from conditions such as pneumonia, asthma, lung diseases and high-blood pressure before they were confirmed as having MERS, the Health Ministry said.

Experts think MERS can spread in respiratory droplets, such as by coughing. But transmissions have mainly occurred through close contact, such as living with or caring for an infected person.

MERS has a death rate of about 40 percent among reported cases. It belongs to the family of coronaviruses that includes the common cold and SARS, and can cause fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure.

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