Korea identifies 24 MERS-affected hospitals amid growing concern over virus

Korea identifies 24 MERS-affected hospitals amid growing concern over virus
Passengers wearing masks to prevent contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) walk past a thermal imaging camera at Incheon International Airport in Incheon.

South Korea on Sunday disclosed the names of six hospitals with confirmed MERS cases, along with 18 others that MERS patients have visited.

Samsung Medical Center, Seoul St. Mary's Hospital and Seoul Asan Hospital, three of the five largest hospitals in Seoul, were among those named.

The announcement followed intensifying calls for transparent information from the public with the number of MERS patients climbing to 64 as of Sunday morning, less than a month since the initial outbreak.

Last week, the government identified St. Mary's Hospital in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, as a MERS-affected hospital after 37 cases of MERS had originated from the facility.

"We are revealing the names of hospitals to show that the government is accurately keeping track of confirmed patients. We will continue to disclose hospital names to actively find infected individuals within the hospital and prevent spreading of the disease," said acting Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan in an emergency briefing at Seoul Government Complex.

Choi explained that the government had refrained from revealing the information out of fear that it may spark nationwide panic and create a vacuum in medical treatment in hospitals involved. But the authorities, including President Park Geun-hye, have decided that the benefits of disclosing information outweigh the possible side effects, he added.

"(The announcement) represents a shift in the government's strategy, to pour all of our efforts to end the MERS situation in its early stages," Choi said. He added, however, that the government is not considering an extra budget, but would spend funds reserved for national emergencies.

The government will also step up monitoring system of potential patients, which will include a cellphone tracking system.

Choi said the government is not considering upgrading the alert level for MERS from its current "caution" status. He reiterated the infection was still being contained to hospitals and had not yet spread to the general public.

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