Asia

Mers outbreak: Hong Kong warns against S Korea travel

Women wearing masks in Seoul, South Korea (8 June 2015) Image copyright AP
Image caption Mers infections in South Korea have so far all been linked to hospitals

Hong Kong has issued a red alert warning against travel to South Korea, which is battling an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers).

The warning means South Korea is considered to pose significant threats to tourism, and Hong Kong residents are advised to cancel non-essential travel.

South Korea confirmed a seventh death from the Mers infection on Tuesday, and 95 infections.

The outbreak is the biggest since Mers was first detected in the Middle East.

The latest victim was a 68-year-old woman with a pre-existing heart condition. She was infected at the same hospital as all the other victims so far.


Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers)

Image copyright SPL
Image caption The first fatality from Mers was recorded in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia
  • Mers is caused by a new type of coronavirus, a type of virus which includes the common cold and Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
  • First cases emerged in the Middle East in 2012, and the first death in Saudi Arabia in June that year.
  • Patients have a fever, cough and breathing difficulties, but Mers can also cause pneumonia and kidney failure.
  • Approximately 36% of reported patients with Mers have died - there is no vaccine or specific treatment.
  • Source: World Health Organization

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The Hong Kong red alert is its second-highest level, and says people should "avoid non-essential travel to Korea, including leisure travel".

The warning said anyone who did still visit South Korea should "avoid unnecessary visit to healthcare facilities" and take precautionary measures, including wearing a mask and washing hands.

Ko Wing-man, secretary for Food and Health Bureau, said the measures had been taken in part because of the "frequent communication between Hong Kong citizens and South Koreans".

Hong Kong was badly hit by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, which was brought to the territory from Southern China by a doctor, so it is sensitive to new disease threats.

Quarantine

Eight new Mers cases were confirmed in South Korea on Tuesday, a significant drop from the 23 new cases reported on Monday.

The South Korean government believes the fact that all cases have been linked to hospitals which treated known patients means the virus can still be contained. All the fatalities have been people who were already unwell.

As of Monday, 2,500 people who may have come into contact with the virus were under quarantine, said the Yonhap news agency, and nearly 1,900 schools have been closed.

The first Mers case in South Korea was a man who became infected during a business trip to Saudi Arabia, where the disease was first identified three years ago.

Medical authorities have been criticised for the way they have handled the outbreak.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon accused central government of not providing enough information to citizens about the virus. But Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo rejected the claim, saying such comments risked increasing public concern.

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