S Korea reports two MERS deaths

South Korea today reported its first two deaths from an outbreak of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that has infected 25 people in the country in two weeks.

The first patient, a 58-year-old woman, who had contact with South Korea's first patient, died of acute respiratory failure on Monday, the health ministry said. A 71-year-old man, who had been on respiratory support with a history of kidney ailments also died.

South Korea has reported 24 more cases of the disease since diagnosing the country's first MERS illness last month in a man who had travelled to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.

Most of the MERC cases have largely been traced to people with connections to the first patient, either medical staff who treated him, or patients and their family members who were near the man at the hospital before he was diagnosed and isolated.

South Korea's health ministry reported seven new cases on Tuesday, including the woman who died, bringing the total number of cases to 25.

South Korea has isolated more than 700 people for possible MERS infection.

Deputy prime minister Choi Kyung-hwan said the governments will bring together all its health-related capabilities and work to dissolve anxiety and concerns quickly.

The government has been criticised for failing to contain the virus after the first patient's symptoms were initially overlooked.

Health officials said about 750 people in South Korea were isolated at their homes or in state-run facilities after having contact with patients infected with the virus. They said the number could rise and that, depending on their conditions, there could be more restrictions.

Last week, the son of one of the patients visited China ignoring doctors' orders. He was later diagnosed as the first MERS case in China, where he was isolated at a hospital.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong authorities said on Sunday that 18 travellers were being quarantined because they sat near him, though they were not showing symptoms.

MERS, first discovered in 2012, has mostly been centered in Saudi Arabia. It belongs to the family of coronaviruses that includes the common cold and SARS, and can cause fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure.

The virus, which was originally feared to have spread through contact with camels, but it can also spread from human fluids and droplets. The death rate in MERS is around 35 per cent.