SEOUL: Hundreds more schools closed Thursday 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.
More than 700 schools—from kindergartens to colleges—have now shut their gates in response to public fears over what has become the largest outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outside Saudi Arabia.
Five more cases were confirmed on Thursday, bringing the total number of known infections to 35, the health ministry said.
The first case—reported on May 20—was of a 68-year-old man diagnosed after a trip to Saudi Arabia.
Since then, more than 1,660 people who may have been exposed directly or indirectly to the virus have been placed under varying levels of quarantine.
While around 160 were isolated at state-designated facilities, most were told to stay home and strictly limit their interactions with other people.
In Seoul, growing public concern has been reflected in the daily increase in the number of commuters wearing facemasks on buses and subways.
The government’s MERS hotline took more than 3,000 calls on Wednesday.
And the anxiety has been exported, with the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) reporting Thursday that around 7,000 tourists—mostly from China and Taiwan—had cancelled planned group trips to South Korea.
“A mass cancellation of this scale is very unusual . . . and many travelers cited the MERS outbreak as the main reason,” a KTO spokesman told AFP.