Four weeks after the World Health Organization issued its first official health alert on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, the outbreak in South Korea doesn’t appear to compare with Hong Kong’s SARS epidemic in 2003.
As of Monday, confirmed MERS cases in South Korea stood at 172, with 27 fatalities. Hong Kong had 998 confirmed SARS cases in its fourth week and 30 fatalities.
The WHO had yet to issue a global advisory against travel to South Korea, which it did for Hong Kong by the third week of SARS. As of June 13, a total of 108,085 tourists had canceled trips to South Korea, according to the country’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
South Korea’s visitor arrivals for June is likely to fall as Asia, which accounts for 81 percent of total visits, turns cautious on travel.
Tourists may not return to South Korea until it goes a month without a new MERS case, if Hong Kong’s experience with SARS is any gauge.
The WHO removed Hong Kong from its list of SARS-transmission areas in June 2003 and it took a month before visitor arrivals to the city returned to 92 percent of the normal level.
The SARS outbreak in Hong Kong led profits at the hardest-hit retailers to fall as much as 60 percent. South Korean retailers may be equally afflicted if MERS lingers or worsens in the months to come.
The views expressed in this article are those of Catherine Lim, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.
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