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Two more fatalities in South Korea MERS outbreak

South Korea's Health Ministry has reported two more MERS deaths, bringing the country's fatalities from the outbreak to 27. At least 172 people in the East Asian nation have so far been infected with the virus.

The two latest fatalities from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) were men aged in their 80s who had been battling cancer, South Korea's Health Ministry said Monday.

One of the victims contracted the virus at Daecheong hospital in the western city of Daejeon. The other man was infected at Samsung Medical Center, a major hospital in Seoul where at least another 80 patients and medical workers have contracted the virus.

The ministry also confirmed three more cases in what is the largest outbreak of MERS outside of Saudi Arabia. A total of 172 people

have been infected

, and more than 4,000 people have been quarantined in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

According to the ministry, 14 patients are in a critical condition, while 50 people had recovered and been released from hospital.

Seoul criticized for sluggish response

MERS was

first observed in 2012

in Saudi Arabia, where it left more than 400 people dead and 1,000 infected, according to the kingdom's health officials.

The outbreak in South Korea began on May 20 after a 68-year-old man returned to the country following a trip to Saudi Arabia. The government was heavily criticized for its sluggish response, after the infected man visited several medical centers before being diagnosed with MERS.

Cases of infection grew quickly in the first two weeks of June, but the spread of the virus

has since slowed considerably

. On Saturday,

authorities reported no new cases

for the first time in 16 days.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of people who come in contact with an infected person do not contract the virus. There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments available for MERS.

nm/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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