MERS fatalities climb to 11 in South Korea


South Korea has reported its 11th death from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in what has become the largest outbreak of the virus outside Saudi Arabia.

On Friday, a 72-year-old woman died after being infected by a MERS patient at a hospital, the Health Ministry said.

Currently, 126 people have been diagnosed with the virus in the country and 3,680 are under quarantine.

The ministry, however, downplayed the issue, advising that people continue with their daily social lives.

“The number of newly confirmed cases has fallen sharply and there are little risks of the virus spreading through airborne transmissions or to communities outside hospital settings,” it said in a statement.

“Therefore, we ask the people to conquer their fear and engage in day-to-day business.”

The first case of the infection in South Korea was identified when a 68-year-old man tested positive with the virus after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia on May 20.

The virus is considered to be a deadlier, but less infectious cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed some 800 people in a 2003 epidemic in Asia.

There is no vaccine or cure available for the virus yet, which, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), has a fatality rate of around 35 percent.

On Thursday, the outbreak forced the central Bank of Korea to cut its key interest rate by 0.25 percentage points as the spread of the virus dampened already weak consumer sentiment. Businesses, including shopping malls, restaurants, and cinemas have, meanwhile, reported a sharp drop in sales as people shun public venues with large crowds.

More than 54,000 foreign travelers have also cancelled planned trips to South Korea so far this month, according to the Korea Tourism Board.

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