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Women wearing face masks wait for a train at a subway station in the popular Myeongdong shopping area in Seoul on June 4, 2015 (AFP)

Seoul, South Korea (AFP)-Hundreds of schools closed Thursday in South Korea as officials struggled to ease growing panic over an outbreak of the MERS virus that has infected 35 people, killed two and caused thousands to cancel travel plans.

More than 900 schools — from kindergartens to colleges — have now shut their gates in response to public fears over what has become the largest outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outside Saudi Arabia.

Five more cases were confirmed on Thursday, bringing the total number of known infections to 35, the health ministry said.

The first case — reported on May 20 — was of a 68-year-old man diagnosed after a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Since then, more than 1,660 people who may have been exposed directly or indirectly to the virus have been placed under varying levels of quarantine.

While around 160 were isolated at state-designated facilities, most were told to stay home and strictly limit their interactions with other people.