Margaret Chan, the World Health Organisation (WHO) president has said the MERS outbreak in South Korea is now “on a very good footing” after an initially slow response to the virus.

Chan's positive reassessment follows a strongly worded warning yesterday (Wednesday) by the WHO in Geneva, which described the spread of the disease as a “wake-up call".

She also said the situation does not constitute an international public health emergency, stating that "the MERS outbreak will be brought under control, although it may take a little longer than everyone would like to see,”

Chan further said the government had admitted it got off to a “slow start” but that its efforts strengthened “very quickly and systemically and very significantly”, resulting in a decline in new cases.

Yesterday, WHO had said a lack of awareness about the virus among health workers and the public was a major contributing factor to its rapid spread.

The group cited keeping patients in crowded emergency rooms for long periods, “doctor shopping” which is visiting multiple hospitals for second and third opinions and the custom of many visitors and family members staying with infected patients in their hospital rooms as examples of what fuelled the spread.

A total of 20 people have now died from the disease while over 6,700 people are currently being held in quarantine and about 4,500 others have already been released from isolation.