Date
23 July 2017
A Chinese tourist wears a mask while visiting Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul. South Korea has confirmed two deaths and 25 cases from an outbreak of the MERS virus. Photo: Reuters
A Chinese tourist wears a mask while visiting Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul. South Korea has confirmed two deaths and 25 cases from an outbreak of the MERS virus. Photo: Reuters

Tour groups seek guidelines on travel to MERS-hit South Korea

Hong Kong tour operators are facing a dilemma over the absence of government guidelines on travel to South Korea where a deadly outbreak of the MERS virus is spreading.

A travel alert is in effect but it does not reflect the situation in Korea where two deaths and 25 cases have been confirmed, SkyPost reported Wednesday.

Hong Kong health officials have criticized their South Korean counterparts for inadequate information and lack of transparency about the outbreak.  

That has put prospective tourists in a difficult situation if they drop their travel plans for South Korea.

Without official guidelines, they will be unable to get a refund, the report said.

Yuen Chun-ning, a spokesman for Worldwide Package Travel, said the company has been dealing with requests from clients who want to change to other destinations.

They can get a refund only after the government upgrades a health alert on South Korea to red (significant threat) or black (severe threat), he said.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has raised a three-tier health alert to level two for travelers to South Korea, meaning they should take all precautions.

Level three imposes a travel ban to affected areas.

Dr. David Hui, a professor in the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the MERS outbreak in South Korea has not reached a dangerous level but quarantine measures are necessary.

Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiology expert in the University of Hong Kong, said the government should toughen checks at the border and in hospitals.

Meanwhile, suppliers of sterile masks are reporting surging sales after the government announced measures to prevent a MERS outbreak.

A store in Kwun Tong said sales of surgical masks have doubled in the past week.

However, Lau Oi-kwok, chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Pharmacy, said there is no sign of panic buying.

MERS is short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, a deadly flu-like disease first reported in 2012 and mostly linked to Saudi Arabia. 

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TL/AC/RA

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