In light of the MERS outbreak in South Korea, which has already claimed four lives, hundreds of schools have cancelled classes to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
With more than 20,000 schools nationwide, more than 1,310 schools from kindergarten to colleges have cancelled classes. The Korea Herald reports that at least 838 schools not opening its doors to students are found in the Gyeonggi Province where the first case of MERS was first reported.
As health officials have not yet changed the MERS alert from “watch” to “warning,” the Ministry of Education has not forced all schools to shut down, only releasing a guideline to schools to help them determine on their own with the principals of schools given the final say.
There is growing fear of the MERS in the country with the South Korean hotline receiving 3,000 on June 3rd alone.
MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is “a viral respiratory illness that is new to humans […] Most people infected with MERS-CoV developed severe acute respiratory illness, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Many of them have died.”
The first case of MERS in South Korea was reported on May 21st after a 68-year old man who traveled to the Middle East in April returned infected with the illness. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) reveal that he did not tell the medical staff of his travel from the Middle East, visiting two clinics and two hospitals before getting appropriately diagnosed and quarantined.
Two people who have come in contact with Patient Zero have already died from MERS, a 58-year-old woman and a 71-year-old man.
The third MERS casualty was reported on June 3rd, an 82-year old man who was originally being treated for asthma and pneumonia and later placed in quarantine after he tested positive for the virus.
The fourth patient passed away on June 4th, a 76-year old man while being treated in a public hospital, reports Yonhap.
Reports reveal that over 1,600 have already been exposed to MERS and are currently under varying quarantine while 41 people have been confirmed diagnosed with the virus.
President Park Geun Hye urged people who are suspected to have gotten infected to self-quarantine as it is an important step in containing the deadly disease. Police have commented that they will force quarantine patients suspected of being infected if they defy the quarantine. Medical experts have also said that MERS does not spread through the air but is contagious to people within five minutes to those who have come in contact with infected patients.
The outbreak has also caused a hit in South Korea’s tourism with 7,000 reported cancellations of group trips to the country, mostly from Taiwan and China.
According to the CDC, the current situation in South Korea is the largest known outbreak of MERS outside the Middle East.
There is no currently known vaccination or treatment for MERS.