Wedding photo becomes symbol of S Korea MERS scare

SEOUL- A South Korean couple's special day has become an unexpected symbol of the country's MERS health scare, after a joke wedding photo with their guests wearing surgical face masks went viral.

The picture that flooded South Korean social networking sites showed the young couple formally posing with dozens of family and friends - with nearly everyone's face obscured by the white masks.

It was taken at their wedding in Seoul on Saturday, as the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) gathered pace.

As of Tuesday, nearly 100 people had been infected by the virus, of whom seven have died.

"This is so scary and sad," one Facebook user commented on the photo which was apparently taken by a guest.

But the couple's wedding planner said the picture was not meant to be taken seriously and added that the couple - currently on honeymoon - had been taken aback by the publicity.

The wedding was held "normally" in Seoul, the planner, Hwang Myung-Hwan, told AFP.

"They had already taken normal group photos without masks when they decided to do something fun," he said.

Hwang, manager at the eco-friendly event planner Sewing for the Soil, said the firm had handed out 200 masks as a message for "the couple to live a healthy life" together.

"The photo was never meant to fan fears about MERS or scare anyone," he said.

The couple - whose names were not disclosed - were unavailable for comment.

The MERS outbreak in South Korea - the largest outside Saudi Arabia - has prompted mass closures of nearly 2,000 schools with almost 2,900 people put under quarantine.