South Korean authorities have temporarily closed two hospitals in the country’s capital Seoul, to control the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus.

Konkuk University Medical Centre, where four cases have been reported, ceased to take new patients.

Samsung Medical Centre (SMC), which has remained closed since 14 June, will suspend its operations indefinitely, AFP reported.

SMC has been a main source for the spread of the virus with nearly 90 out of the total 179 people affected, routed back to this hospital.

"SMC has been a main source for the spread of the virus with nearly 90 out of the total 179 people affected, routed back to this hospital."

Four new cases were reported on 23 June, with two from the hospital ward where MERS patients have been quarantined, and two from SMC.

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On 23 June, Samsung Group heir Lee Jae-yong apologised publicly for failing to control the spread of the virus.

Lee Jae-yong said: "Our Samsung Medical Centre could not stop the infection and the spread of the MERS, causing so much pain and worries to the public.

"I bow my head to apologise."

MERS is a viral respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus (MERS-CoV) that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Coronaviruses can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Hospitals have been the epicentre of the spread of MERS, with 174 patients infected through this route. Five contacted the virus through routes outside the hospitals, the South Korean Health Ministry said.

According to the latest WHO figures, 178 cases of MERS have been reported from South Korea and one from China. There have been 27 deaths so far.

Approximately 3,100 people are quarantined at state facilities or at home to control the virus that broke out in South Korea in May when a man was affected after his trip to Saudi Arabia.

Image: South Korea has so far reported 178 cases of MERS. Photo: courtesy of EPA / A Hofford.