South Korea’s outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome isn’t a global health emergency, a World Health Organization committee decided after finding the virus hasn’t developed the ability to spread easily between people.
South Korea has “strongly initiated actions to bring this outbreak under control” and genetic sequencing of the virus doesn’t show any worrisome mutations, the WHO’s emergency committee said in a statement Wednesday. It’s the ninth time the group of outside experts convened to advise Director-General Margaret Chan has met to assess the MERS threat in the past two years. Each time, it decided against declaring a global health emergency.
The WHO came under fire last year for being too slow to view the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as a global threat. Unlike Ebola, MERS hasn’t proved highly contagious or deadly. The virus, thought to have been transmitted to humans by camels, has sickened 162 people and killed 20 in South Korea in the past month, prompting the government to shut schools, airlines to cut flights and consumers to avoid shopping malls and restaurants.
A WHO investigation concluded that the virus had not mutated to become more transmissible, and that routine infection controls in hospitals would be enough to curb the outbreak. Around 108,000 tourists have canceled trips to South Korea due to MERS as of June 13, the culture ministry said Monday.
“There is no current evidence of sustained community transmission,” the Geneva-based WHO said in the statement. “The committee noted that subsequent public health measures to stop the outbreak, including extensive efforts to enhance contact tracing and steps to ensure that cases and contacts are appropriately isolated or quarantined and monitored and that they do not travel, appear to have coincided with a decline in the incidence of cases.”