A health worker checks the body heat of children wearing face masks at an elementary school in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, on June 15, 2015 (AFP / Yonhap)

Seoul (AFP) – South Korea on Tuesday declared the effective end to a deadly outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that killed 36 people, triggered widespread panic and stymied growth in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Addressing a meeting of government officials in Seoul, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn said the danger posed by what was the biggest outbreak of the virus outside Saudi Arabia was over.

“After weighing various circumstances, the medical personnel and the government judge that the people can now be free from worry,” Hwang said.

“I ask the public to shake off all concerns over MERS and to resume normal daily activities, including economic, cultural, leisure and school activities,” he added.

Thousands of schools were closed at the peak of the outbreak, as anxious parents kept their children home.

The outbreak took a heavy toll on the national economy, stifling consumer spending and devastating the tourist sector.

Local businesses including shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas reported a sharp drop in sales as people shunned public venues with large crowds.