SEOUL, June 8 (Yonhap) -- The spreading MERS virus may subside as early as this week as it has not yet spread to local communities and is confined to hospitals, Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo said Monday.
"In my cautious prediction, (it) may reach a peak today," Moon said in a parliamentary hearing. "It may hopefully go into a stable condition tomorrow or the day after tomorrow."
The comments came as the country reported its sixth death from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome on Monday along with 23 fresh cases, the highest number for one day.
The total number of those infected with the disease came to 87.
The minister said the government is ready to raise its alert level against the epidemic whenever it's necessary. South Korea "has yet to upgrade the alert level but will stay ready to raise the level to 'vigilance' whenever it is necessary," he said.
Since the outbreak of the first MERS case on May 20, South Korea has kept the four-tier alert system at the third-highest "caution" level despite some calls for a higher level, which requires more government countermeasures.
"Although it is currently at the caution level, actions now being taken are those at the vigilance level," the health minister said.
"Movement to the vigilance level could affect the national image," he said.
In efforts to counter growing public jitters about the spread of the virus, Moon stressed that the spread is now limited to medical facilities.
Moon again apologized to the nation for the spread of MERS. "I think the spread could have been ended much earlier if we reacted more thoroughly in the initial stage. I fell very sorry about that," he said.
The government also plans to announce more support measures, including financial assistance for confirmed or potential MERS patients, he said, as more than 2,000 people have been labeled potential virus carriers and have to remain at home.