SEOUL, South Korea — On Tuesday, July 28, South Korea’s Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn declared the country is MERS-free and citizens should return to their daily activities. This announcement comes as a result of no new MERS case in 3 weeks.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said not so fast, as its standards recommend a 4-week waiting period after the last MERS patient completely recovers, before officially declaring the outbreak over.
WHO did confirm the outbreak is under control and it gave credit to the country’s health measures of isolating all infected and those who had made contact with them.
The outbreak began with the return of a Korean man on May 20th that had visited the Middle East. The result was 36 deaths, 200 infected, and nearly 17,000 were isolated in hospitals and homes, with the last person in quarantine released Monday, July 27th. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. It has been the largest outbreak outside the Middle East.
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was discovered in 2012, and is caused by coronavirus, belonging to the same family as common cold and SARS. MERS usually spreads slowly but given the crowded emergency rooms and hospital wards, family and friends visiting patients, and patients going to various doctors, MERS spread rapidly.
The outbreak hit the economy heavily with the slowest economic growth in over 6 years for the second quarter. Tourists cancelled their trips, resulting in tourism dropping over 40 percent in June and almost 60 percent in the first 15 days of July. Seven countries advised not travelling to South Korea, with Vietnam being the last to lift the ban on Tuesday, July 28th, when the announcement was made. Hong Kong is still warning to only make necessary trips to South Korea.
During this time of year, South Korea is usually filled with tourists, especially Chinese. The South Korean government has released marketing campaigns and delegations to travel abroad to promote tourism.
The economy has also been hit heavily by citizens staying home. There has been a large drop in sales among local businesses such as shopping malls, restaurants, and movie theaters. The government has prepared a 22 trillion won ($19.8 billion) stimulus package, the majority of which seeks to support businesses hurt by the outbreak.
Despite WHO’s credit to the government’s health measures in handling the outbreak, there has been vast criticism of the government’s management. It took over 2 weeks to tell the public which hospitals had treated MERS patients due to fear of public panic. As a result, South Korea’s President Park Geun-Hye has replaced the health minister.
When trying to prevent an outbreak, the public should be aware of what’s going on to take the necessary measures and protect themselves. Awareness would have also been helpful in keeping citizens from visiting hospitals at the rate they were doing so.
– Paula Acevedo