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S Korea announces 10th Mers death

South Korea has announced a 10th death from the Mers virus, although officials think the disease has peaked.

The announcement comes as the country's central bank lowered its interest rates to a record low in response to a slump in exports and the prospect that Mers could slow the economy.

Bank of Korea policy makers cut the policy rate by a quarter of a percentage point to 1.5%, the second rate cut this year.

In March, the bank lowered the key rate and downgraded its growth forecast for Asia's fourth-largest economy as exports continued to slump.

Analysts initially expected the central bank to leave the policy rate unchanged. That view changed this month as the Mers outbreak caused panic in South Korea.

Consumption was on track to recover but began showing signs of contraction after the outbreak of Mers last month, while the decline in exports widened, the central bank said in a statement.

Exports and imports continued to drop over a year earlier after the March rate cut due to sluggish global demand and a weak Japanese yen. The cheaper yen hurt Korean exporters, especially car makers that compete with Japanese rivals in the global market.

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The outbreak has killed 10 and infected more than 120 people since the first case, a 68-year-old man who had travelled to the Middle East, was diagnosed on May 20.

Most of the deaths so far have been of people who had been suffering from pre-existing medical conditions such as respiratory problems or cancer. About 3,800 people remain isolated after possible contact with infected people, according to the Health Ministry.

The outbreak could hurt businesses and dent consumption as travellers cancel trips and people stay at home out of worries of contagion. Industries that count Chinese tourists as key customers, such as airlines and cosmetics, are likely to be worst hit.

More than 2,600 schools across South Korea have been closed. On Wednesday, experts from the World Health Organisation and South Korea urged their reopening as the outbreak in the country has so far been contained to hospitals and there is no evidence of sustained transmission in the community.

South Korean officials believe the outbreak may have peaked, although they say the next few days will be crucial to determining whether their efforts to isolate patients and stymie the disease have worked.

President Park Geun-hye postponed her planned US visit scheduled for next week to focus on coping with the outbreak.

Experts think Mers can spread in respiratory droplets, such as by coughing. But transmissions have mainly occurred through close contact, such as living with or caring for an infected person.

Mers has mostly been centred in Saudi Arabia and has a death rate of about 40%. It belongs to the family of coronaviruses that includes the common cold and Sars, and can cause fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure.

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