Mers virus: fifth person dies as government announces it will track mobile phones of quarantined

The government has reversed policy by announcing the 24 hospitals where Mers patients have been diagnosed or treated

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The Independent Online

A fifth person has died of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) virus in South Korea, as hundreds of schools have closed and people have been quarantined to stop the spread of the disease.

The 75-year-old man was the fifth do die of the virus in South Korea, who had been in a Seoul hospital alongside other sufferers.

Sixty four people have been infected by Mers since last month in the largest outbreak outside the Middle East.

The government has also announced it is strengthening measures to stop the spread and public fear of the disease.

On Sunday, Acting Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan said there is no reason to believe the virus will spread significantly further: "So far, all the MERS cases have been hospital-associated, and there has been no case of an infection in other social settings. We think we have a chance at putting the outbreak under total control."

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South Korean soldiers wear facemasks during a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of Korean Memorial Day at the National Cemetery in Seoul on 6 June 2015

The virus currently has no vaccine, but experts say it only spreads through close contact with infected people, not through the air.

The U.N. health agency has reported that there's no evidence yet in South Korea of "sustained transmission in the community."

The government has also announced the names of the 24 hospitals where the Mers patients have been diagnosed or had been treated before their condition was confirmed, encouraging people who have visited those facilities in recent weeks to report themselves if they are showing symptoms similar to Mers-related illnesses.

This marks a departure from previous strategy, as the government had only earlier identified one hospital in a city south of Seoul where the first Mers case was confirmed, and another in southern Seoul which has been a significant source of infections.

The government had been reluctant to release the full list of hospitals over concerns that it would cause a disruption in services if people started avoiding them.

Choi said the government will also strengthen its monitoring of the hundreds of undiagnosed patients who are quarantined at their homes because officials believe they might have contracted the virus, including tracking their whereabouts through mobile phone signals.

Mers was first indentified in humans in 2012 and originated in Saudi Arabia.

It is caused by the coronavirus and can cause fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure.

Additional reporting AP

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