[SEOUL] South Korean authorities will track the cellphones of more than 2,300 people under quarantine to prevent the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) as the Health Ministry on Monday reported 23 new infections, bringing the total to 87.
A fifth person had died from the disease, the ministry said over the weekend. South Korea now has the second highest number of infections in the world after Saudi Arabia, according to statistics from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The government, under criticism for a lack of transparency and failing to respond swiftly to the outbreak, said on Sunday it would track people who may have been in contact with patients through their mobile phones.
Over 2,300 people were under quarantine as of Sunday, some in health care facilities but most at home.
The ministry also identified 24 health facilities where infections took place or Mers patients visited.
Reflecting public concern among parents, 1,869 schools across the country are due to be closed on Monday, the Education Ministry said.
All school trips from Singapore to South Korea had been postponed or cancelled, Singaporean media reported over the weekend, citing the Ministry of Education.
Seventeen of the new South Korean cases come from the same Seoul hospital emergency room where the country's first patient was diagnosed, the ministry said.
There were no additional cases from another hospital which produced the first wave of infections with 37 patients.
All the confirmed South Korean infections have taken place in healthcare facilities. The country's first patient returned from Saudi Arabia in early May, officials have said.
First identified in humans in 2012, Mers is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that triggered Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
South Korea's new cases bring the total globally to 1,236, based on World Health Organization (WHO) data, with at least 445 related deaths.
With the economy already flagging, the Mers outbreak is adding pressure for another interest cut in South Korea, possibly as soon as the central bank's next policy meeting this week. The finance minister has said there is no need for a supplementary budget.