SEOUL - South Korean authorities squabbled on Friday over their handling of an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), as a fourth person died and five new cases were reported.
The government has promised to do everything it can to end the outbreak which began in South Korea last month when an infected South Korean man brought it back from a business trip to the Middle East.With 41 cases, South Korea has the most infections outside the Middle East where the disease first appeared in 2012, and where most of the 440 fatalities have been.
As the number of infections in South Korea rises daily, fear and anger are growing. South Korea's neighbors are also increasingly concerned.
Memories are still fresh in Asia of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which emerged in 2002-2003 and killed about 800 people worldwide. MERS is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that caused SARS.
Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo accused authorities in the capital, Seoul, of giving out incorrect information about a case which he said would spread alarm and undermine the fight against the disease.
On Thursday, city officials accused national authorities of being slow to share information, in particular about a doctor who had treated a MERS patient and subsequently went to a May 30 gathering attended by more than 1,500 people.
The doctor was later diagnosed with MERS and the people at the gathering have been advised to stay in voluntary quarantine.
Moon rejected assertions his ministry had mishandled the case.
"The announcement by the city of Seoul yesterday has parts that are not factual and can increase public concern," he said.
The comments would only hurt the credibility of the government's effort to stamp out MERS, he said.