The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday South
Korea's outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a
"wake-up call" but does not constitute a global emergency, as the
country reported eight new cases.
A total of 162 people have been infected and 20 people have died
in South Korea's MERS outbreak, which began last month and is the
largest outside Saudi Arabia.
The outbreak has been traced to a 68-year-old South Korean man
who returned from a business trip to the Middle East in early May,
and the WHO said it expected new cases in coming weeks, although
the numbers appear to be declining.
Members of the WHO's emergency committee agreed unanimously that
the outbreak did not qualify as a public health emergency of
international concern - a rating that would have triggered a
coordinated, worldwide response.
"This outbreak is a wake-up call," the Geneva-based agency said.
"In a highly mobile world, all countries should always be prepared
for the unanticipated possibility of outbreaks of this, and other
serious infectious diseases."
It added, however, that there was no current evidence of the
disease spreading easily within communities, and there was no need
for any international travel or trade restrictions.
The eight new South Korean cases marked a rise from the four and
five the previous two days, but below double-digit daily increases
reported last week.
"It is absolutely critical to keep high-level surveillance, keep
up high levels of monitoring," the WHO's assistant director
general, Keiji Fukuda, told a briefing in Geneva.
More than 6,500 people are in quarantine in South Korea, either
at home or in health facilities.
South Korea had come under criticism for its early response to
the MERS outbreak.
"They are really pulling out all the stops now and trying to
shut this down. It's very impressive," Fukuda, who led a WHO team
of experts who visited South Korea last week, told Reuters.
South Korea said 19 people diagnosed with the MERS virus had
recovered and been discharged from hospital.
The latest MERS patient to die in South Korea was a 54-year-old
woman who had bronchiectasis and high blood pressure. Nearly all of
the fatalities were people who had existing ailments or were
All of the infections known to have occurred in South Korea have
taken place in healthcare facilities. Three hospitals have been at
least partially shut and two have been locked down with patients
and medical staff inside.
MERS is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one
that triggered China's deadly 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The vast majority of MERS infections and deaths have been in
Saudi Arabia, where more than 1,000 people have been infected since
2012, and about 454 have died.