Four new cases were confirmed today, bringing to 154 the total number of confirmed cases with 19 deaths in what has become the largest outbreak of the virus outside Saudi Arabia.

Of the 154 people, 17 were cured and released from hospital, the health ministry said.

The number of new cases has been gradually declining from 12 on Friday to four today, sparking hopes that the outbreak might be showing early signs of easing.

"What is noteworthy is the fact that the number of new cases has been falling over the past few days," a senior health ministry official told journalists.

"More cases are expected to occur sporadically but we don't expect to see new cases occur in groups," he said.

Of the 118 being treated, 16 are listed in unstable condition while most of the fatalities had pre-existing health problems.

A 49-year-old man was the youngest to die from the respiratory illness but the ministry said he had been suffering from liver cirrhosis and diabetes.

Three of the four new cases were traced to Samsung Medical Centre, one of the two epicentres of the outbreak.
Almost half of confirmed cases have been traced to the hospital, one of the most prestigious in South Korea, forcing it to temporarily shut down services on Sunday.

The ministry has set up telephone hotlines for foreigners living in South Korea, urging them to report to authorities should they develop symptoms and promising compensation if they have to be placed under quarantine, even if they are illegal immigrants.

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