Written by By Chinonso Alozie, CNN
South Korea’s number of cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has surged past 100 since the start of the year, more than any other country affected by the virus.
After mounting questions about South Korea’s response, a health ministry spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the country is “considering giving vaccines to all residents that are affected by the disease.”
While South Korea has yet to report a fatality from the outbreak of the disease, which experts say is similar to SARS, it continues to spread, infecting more than 7.5 million people — a figure confirmed last week by the ministry.
MERS is a viral respiratory disease with strong family links to the Middle East. Health experts estimate the virus infects between 2,000 and 3,000 people globally each year, although numbers are rising.
South Korea’s outbreak began after 38-year-old businessman Kim Hwang-kyun brought the virus back from the United Arab Emirates in May. The first cases were reported in June, and a severe form of the illness — known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome — struck three in June.
The healthcare authorities warned they would only offer people exemptions from vaccinations if they said they were sick. They also sought to reassure visitors saying those at risk are being isolated and their risk of contracting the disease is minimal.
But the government has yet to meet the National Assembly’s recommended quota of vaccines for MERS, according to the Korean Union of Examinations and Assessment Agency. And according to a confidential government report obtained by CNN, 6,277 children have been absent from school due to MERS, a figure which could rise as new cases emerge.
South Korea has since closed 300 schools and shuttered at least 750 public spaces and businesses amid the spread of the virus.