MERS Virus Keeps Chinese Tourist Away

kpride, June 9, 2015, 8:31 a.m.

The outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is dealing a devastating blow to the Korean tourism industry. Dongdaemun Market, which has been bustling with Chinese shoppers in recent years, was virtually empty on Monday. Only around a dozen Chinese tourists milled in front of the popular Migliore building. 

Most of the clothing shops that dot the alleys of the Dongdaemun shopping district were closed. One 21-year-old tourist from Guangzhou said, "I came here because I couldn't get a refund on my trip, but my family back home are very worried. Everyone in China knows about the MERS outbreak in Korea." 

The situation was no different in the Myeong-dong shopping district in central Seoul. One market trader there said, "Few Koreans are coming here to shop and the drop in the number of Chinese visitors is clearly visible."

According to the Korea Tourism Organization, 45,600 tourists canceled their trips to Korea as of Sunday due to concerns over MERS. And 90 percent of them are from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.  They seem especially jittery because they recall the SARS epidemic that killed hundreds of people in their countries in 2002.

Chinese students here are also getting worried. One 27-year-old student at Konkuk University said, "Three out of 15 Chinese friends I have here went back to China without even taking the end-of-term exams. The other 12 plan to go back as soon as exams are over." The student said their families in China are urging them to return as soon as possible. 

One 29-year-old Chinese citizen, who had been on the lam in Korea since 2011 after committing a W300 million real estate fraud in China, was arrested last week after returning to China voluntarily because he was scared of MERS (US$1=W1,123).

Chinese students complained that the quarantine measures and precautions here are insufficient. A graduate school student from China's Shandong Province said, "When the SARS outbreak swept through China, suspicious cases were isolated and the villages smelled of disinfectant, but health officials here seem less enthusiastic." 

Another Chinese student said, "It looks like my family back in China are more worried than people here. I'm thinking of going back to China because I might not get proper care here since I'm a foreigner." 


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