The Hong Kong government on Tuesday issued a “red alert” against non-essential travel to South Korea following an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in that country.
The government said the alert is necessary as concerns mount over the MERS coronavirus which has claimed the lives of seven people in South Korea and infected 95 others.
Carrie Lam, the acting chief executive, advised tourism agencies to take note of the travel alert and make appropriate arrangements for Hong Kong tourists.
People must avoid going to South Korea unless absolutely necessary, she said.
Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, said many travel agencies were not satisfied with the “travel health advice” issued by the government on Monday, instead of the formal travel alert which came Tuesday.
If there is no formal travel alert, it would be difficult for travel agencies to arrange refunds for tourists, he said.
Tung believes that if there is no improvement in the MERS situation, all summer travel tours to Korea could be cancelled and be replaced by other tour routes.
“It is not guaranteed that airlines will refund immediately even if there is a travel alert,” he said.
Cathy Pacific and its subsidiary DragonAir, meanwhile, have announced that they are implementing special ticketing arrangements for outbound travel from Hong Kong to Korea between June 9 and August 31.
“We will waive re-booking and re-routing fees for all tickets issued in Hong Kong on or before 9 June 2015 for travel on flights to Seoul, Busan and Jeju. In addition, most tickets can also be refunded subject to a handling fee,” Cathay said in a statement.
Dr. Ko Wing-man, Secretary for Food and Health, said eight new MERS cases were confirmed in Korea from Monday to Tuesday morning.
One cannot say yet whether the situation will stabilize, he said, adding that the government will continue to monitor the situation.
Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki said the sudden change of “travel health advice” to a “red travel alert” suggests that government departments are lacking coordination and communication.
Ko said he accepts the criticism.
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