South Korea declared on Tuesday that the MERS epidemic is over, BBC News has learned.
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in South Korea that claimed the lives of 36 people and sickened 186 has been declared "over" by Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, reports the Associated Press.
This was the biggest outbreak outside the Middle East. More than 16,000 people were quarantined to stop spreading the disease. The last person was lifted from quarantine last Monday.
Because there has been no report of a new infection for the past three weeks, the government believes that the nation is now virtually MERS-free. Now, the South Korean Prime Minister urges all people to resume normal daily activities.
"It is the judgment of medical experts and the government that people can now feel safe," Prime Minister Hwang said in the meeting, reports the Associated Press.
A cousin of the famed coronavirus Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), MERS is also a contagious disease that could spread rapidly (but not as easily as SARS). As such, the outbreak has caused a lot of damage to the South Korean tourism and economy.
Schools were closed and public consumer spending drastically dropped. The general public cautiously avoided public areas; thus, local establishments like malls and restaurants suffered a heavy loss in sales.
South Korea's economy experienced a slow growth brought about in part by the highly affected tourism sector. The Guardian reports that the number of foreign visitors dropped by more than 40 percent in June compared last year, and by a further 60 percent in the first two weeks of July.
AP further reports that according to Seoul's foreign ministry, seven countries, including several regions in China, Czech Republic and the United Arab Emirates, have advised their citizens against traveling to South Korea due to the MERS outbreak. Vietnam is the last country among them to lift the travel warning.
Hong Kong, however, is still maintaining an alert against non-essential travel to South Korea, but authorities are expecting it to be lifted soon.
Now that the travel warnings have been lifted, South Korea hopes to build its tourism again. The Guardian reports that Seoul plans to use a lot of money to fund campaigns to entice tourists and travelers to come back. These plans include free promotional concerts by well-known K-pop artists.
"We are particularly eager to bring back Chinese tourists," says tourism vice-minister Kim Chong.
"I ask the public to shake off all concerns over Mers and to resume normal daily activities, including economic, cultural, leisure and school activities," says Prime Minister Hwang.
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