South Korea declares end to MERS outbreak

2015-07-28 05:42
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Seoul - 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.

Economic stimulus

The government recently announced a $19.8bn stimulus package, much of which was aimed at supporting businesses hurt by the MERS crisis.

Earlier this month, the Bank of Korea (BOK) cut its 2015 economic growth forecast for the third time this year, from 3.1% growth to 2.8%.

Citing sluggish exports and weak domestic consumption - exacerbated by the MERS outbreak - the central bank has kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record low of 1.5%.

The virus is considered a deadlier but less infectious cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed hundreds of people when it appeared in Asia in 2003.

Criticised for its initial response to the outbreak, the government introduced sweeping quarantine measures that saw nearly 17 000 people confined to their homes.

The policy was effective in restricting the spread of the disease to medical facilities, with no infections reported in the wider community.

With one patient still undergoing treatment in hospital, Tuesday's announcement by the prime minister stopped short of formally declaring South Korea MERS free.

World Health Organisation standards call for a four-week waiting period after the last MERS patient fully recovers, before declaring the outbreak definitively over.

"We will continue to carry out remaining measures and responses until the situation comes to a formal end," senior health ministry official Kwon Duk-Cheol told reporters.

"We still have many arrivals from the Middle East so there is always a possibility that new patients can come in," Kwon said, adding that screening stations in airports would continue to operate.

Tourism

While no additional MERS infections have been reported since July 4, BOK governor Lee Ju-Yeol said the economic impact of the deadly disease would last through August.

Tourism was hit particularly hard, with the number of foreign visitors plunging by more than 40% in June compared to a year ago, and a further 60% in the first two weeks of July.

Seoul plans to spend up to 30 billion won on campaigns to lure back travellers including free promotional tours and large concerts by big-name K-pop stars.

"We are particularly eager to bring back Chinese tourists," vice tourism minister Kim Chong told foreign reporters last week.

Read more on:    south korea  |  mers

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.