MERS Outbreak Could Hit South Korea's Travel Sector

In the wake of yesterday's decision by officials in Hong Kong to issue a travel advisory cautioning against travel to South Korea during the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the situation is beginning to have an impact on South Korea's economy and travel sector. 

According to CNN, Chinese travel agencies are predicting a 70 percent drop in summer travel to South Korea. June and July are typically the busiest months for travel to the country. 

Reuters reports that department store sales have fallen 25 percent in the first week of June as compared to an average of the first two weeks of May. Movie and amusement park entries were down 50 percent. Discount store sales also fell 7.2 percent, but online purchases were slightly up. 

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Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan has announced a 400 billion won ($357 million) aid package for businesses affected by the outbreak, and South Korea's central bank is expected to cut interest rates Thursday in an effort to further blunt the impact of the outbreak on the economy. 

South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced a decision to postpone a trip to the U.S. to meet with President Obama next week in order to deal with the outbreak, the New York Times reports. 

WHO Response

The World Health Organization (WHO) has begun a joint mission with South Korea to analyze the virus and review the company's response. The WHO has not recommended any restrictions on travel. 

The United States Embassy in South Korea has also issued some tips regarding the outbreak

"All patients in Korea acquired their illness in hospital settings where they came in direct or indirect contact with MERS patients," the embassy said in a statement. "Contacts with MERS patients will require monitoring or isolation for up to 14 days, usually in their own home. Medical leaders in Korea are working closely with the CDC and other public health experts to contain this MERS outbreak."

According to the WHO, MERS is a type of coronavirus, the same family of viruses that cause the common cold and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Typical symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Approximately 36 percent of reported patients with MERS have died, and no vaccine or specific treatment is currently available. 


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