S. Korea to lower MERS alert to lowest readiness level

September 21, 2018

SEOUL, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) — South Korea will lower its Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) alert level to its lowest readiness posture, as 21 people who came into close contact with a patient all tested negative for the disease, health authorities said Friday.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said it has reached the decision to lower the readiness level from “caution” to “attention” starting Saturday.

The KCDC said that people who had been placed under quarantine — including flight attendants and passengers on the same plane as the patient, medical staff and immigration officials — have all been checked and show no symptoms.

They will be released as of midnight Saturday, as the maximum incubation period for secondary cases associated with limited human-to-human transmission of MERS is approximately 14 days, the KCDC said.

Earlier this week, the country’s sole MERS patient was released from quarantine after testing negative for the respiratory disease. He was diagnosed with MERS on Sept. 8 after returning home from a three-week business trip to Kuwait via the United Arab Emirates. It was the first case of MERS diagnosed in South Korea since 2015.

The agency said it will lift monitoring of 396 people who came into ordinary contact with the MERS patient. They were not quarantined, but they had to report their health condition every day to officials in charge of monitoring.

MERS is a viral respiratory disease with a fatality rate of 20-46 percent. It is caused by a novel coronavirus carried by camels and can be spread when someone is in close contact with a patient for a sustained period.

The first MERS case was recorded in Saudi Arabia, and it has since spread to other countries. As of June this year, the World Health Organization has reported 2,229 laboratory-confirmed cases.

South Korea was hit by an outbreak in 2015, resulting in 38 deaths and 186 people testing positive for MERS.