Destinations

South Korea faces “dire” tourism prospects

AFP / Hannah Edensor

South Korea has reported the 16th death in an expanding MERS outbreak, while the number of cases has jumped to 150.

The outbreak started on May 20, according to the ABC, when a 68-year-old man was diagnosed after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Since then the virus has spread at a rapid pace, resulting in The World Health Organisation calling an emergency meeting for today on South Korea’s “large and complex” MERS outbreak.

South Korea has announced financial aid to the tourism industry, warning earnings could be slashed by up to $US2.3 billion ($AU2.97 billion) as thousands cancel travel plans.

Seoul also declared five new patients, with fears growing over the impact of the crisis on Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Vice tourism minister Kim Chong said more than 100,000 foreign travellers – mostly from China – have already cancelled trips to South Korea since the beginning of June and more are expected to follow suit.

“We estimate that … our foreign currency earnings will dwindle by $US900 million if the number of foreign travellers drops by 20 per cent, or by $US2.3 billion if the number plunges by 50 per cent,” Kim said on Monday, as the country approaches its peak tourist season of July and August.

He promised financial aid worth 72 billion won ($AU82.56 million) to help tourism-related businesses.

“Our tourism industry is faced with a very dire situation,” he said.

A 58-year-old man, who had been suffering from diabetes, is the latest victim of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which broke out in South Korea less than a month ago.

The five new patients – aged from 39 to 84 – were infected in hospitals in cities including Seoul and Daejeon, 140 kilometres south of the capital.

Among them was a nurse who had performed CPR on an infected patient in Daejeon and one infected in Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul – the epicentre of the outbreak where more than 70 patients, visitors and medical staff contracted the virus.

The health ministry added 17 patients remained in an unstable condition.

The outbreak, the largest outside Saudi Arabia, started on May 20 when a 68-year-old man was diagnosed after returning from a trip to the country.

The virus has since spread at an unusually rapid pace and more than 5200 people have been placed in quarantine.

Businesses including shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas have reported a sharp drop in sales as people shun public venues with large crowds.

Almost all patients were infected in hospital and experts from the World Health Organisation said on Saturday they had found no evidence to indicate transmission of the virus in communities outside hospitals.

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