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Asia Minute: MERS Strikes Travel to South Korea

NIAID / Flickr
NIAID / Flickr

In South Korea, an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or “MERS” has widened to more than 100 people. The World Health Organization is working with the government, and so far has not issued any warnings about travel to South Korea. Even so, tourism is starting to feel an impact. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

Hong Kong’s government has recommended residents avoid “non-essential travel to South Korea, including leisure travel,” because of MERS. Taiwan has widened a travel alert to include all of South Korea, it formerly covered only Seoul. But that’s not a universal response.  Neither China nor Japan has issued any travel advisories to Korea.  Nor has the United States, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just updated an information page on its website about MERS in Korea.

The Korea Tourism Organization reports more than 45-thousand travelers had cancelled trips to Korea as of Sunday.  90% of them were coming from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.  Many residents in those areas remain particularly sensitive to respiratory issues following the SARS outbreak of late 2002 into 2003.  Nearly 800 people died in that outbreak, the overwhelming majority of them in Asia.

Doctors say MERS is not as infectious as SARS, and not spreading as fast. Practices and protocols have also changed, becoming more stringent for medical professionals. For example, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention requires hospitals and clinics to notify authorities within two hours of receiving a patient with suspected symptoms of MERS.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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