Fewer people visit shopping centres in Seoul amid MERS outbreak

South Koreans stay away from public places in capital Seoul as the number of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases continues to rise in the county.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (JUNE 13, 2015) (REUTERS) – More South Koreans, concerned about the continued increase in the number of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases, preferred to stay away from usually busy public areas in the capital Seoul on Saturday (June 13).

In Dongdaemun, a famous shopping mall, a reduced number of people wore face masks while looking around stores.

“People seem to be more careful about having contact or coughing in public places. That’s why I feel uncomfortable to go out to public,” 30-year-old South Korean resident, Dan Lee, said.

A Candle seller in Dongdaemun, Kim Kyung-ok, said she has seen a sharp drop in sales in her shop.

“There was a 70 percent drop in sales last week and 90 percent drop for this week. It’s really hard for me to run the store, because the number of foreigners and also local customers have decreased. I hope that the MERS situation will be resolved soon. If not, I cannot do this anymore,” Kim said.

The South Korean government on Monday (June 8) said it was ready to take swift measures to counter the negative effects on its economy from the outbreak of a deadly respiratory disease, suggesting that worried policymakers may soon deliver monetary and fiscal stimuli.

President Park Geun-hye said the negative economic effects from the outbreak of MERS should not be overlooked, while Finance Minister Choi vowed to take steps to offset any hit to growth.

South Korea’s health ministry on Saturday reported 12 new cases of MERS, bringing the total to 138, and said a 14th person had died in the outbreak.

The 12 new cases, including an ambulance driver who transported a previous patient, follow four that were reported on Friday (June 12). The lower number had raised hopes that the outbreak might be slowing, but officials and experts predicted there would be more new cases.

The case of the ambulance driver was traced to a single previous patient who was being transported last week and who has since died, the ministry said.

The outbreak is the largest outside Saudi Arabia, where the disease was first identified in humans in 2012, and has stirred fears in Asia of a repeat of a 2002-2003 scare when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) killed about 800 people worldwide.

MERS is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that caused SARS. It is more deadly than SARS but does not spread as easily, at least for now. There is no cure or vaccine.

The 68-year-old man who brought MERS back to South Korea visited several health centres for a cough and fever before he was diagnosed, leaving a trail of infection in his wake. He continues to be treated for the illness.