Mers not over, but S. Korea's streets safe: Envoy

Ambassador Suh Chung Ha said there was no evidence those strolling in the streets were infected by Mers.
Ambassador Suh Chung Ha said there was no evidence those strolling in the streets were infected by Mers. PHOTO: EMBASSY OF THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA

NEARLY a thousand Singaporeans have cancelled their trips to South Korea this month, prompting the country's ambassador to reassure travellers that they need not worry about catching the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) there.

"We don't believe the situation is over," Mr Suh Chung Ha told The Straits Times yesterday. "But as of now, there is no evidence that those who were strolling in the streets and shopping were infected by Mers.

"Travellers and prospective travellers don't have to worry. Go ahead with plans to travel to South Korea."

Citing findings by the World Health Organisation (WHO), he said that those who caught the virus had visited health facilities such as hospitals and there was no evidence that it had circulated in the community.

Mr Suh was cautiously optimistic that the outbreak, which has infected 165 people and caused 23 deaths in South Korea, will be over by the time the autumn season begins in September.

The incubation period for the virus is two weeks. "Those infected can be discovered before the end of June," he said. "Considering the declining trend of new cases, this outbreak seems to be slowing down."

Yesterday, South Korean officials revealed that an infected man had travelled to Jeju Island with his family several days before his infection was confirmed. This prompted the hotel he stayed in, The Shilla Jeju, to shut temporarily. Local tour agency Dynasty Travel has three tour groups due to stay at the hotel later this month, and may change their accommodation if necessary.

Mr Suh said: "Most Koreans obeyed the recommendations of the government (to be quarantined). Just a few people seemed to resist the government's orders.

"But the fact is that the people who got infected were not in the community (when they caught the Mers virus)."

According to the Korea Tourism Organisation, 896 Singaporeans have cancelled their trips this month. Mr Suh expects the actual figure to be larger, taking into account those who booked their trips with airlines and hotels directly. About 150,000 Singaporeans visit South Korea each year.

The WHO said on Wednesday that it "does not recommend the application of any travel or trade restrictions".

Hong Kong has a "red alert" advisory against non-essential travel to South Korea but Mr Suh said: "A few governments in Asia seemed to have overreacted to the situation in Korea."

He said Singapore's measures, which include temperature screening for travellers arriving from South Korea, are "understandable and reasonable".

mellinjm@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Cheryl Faith Wee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2015, with the headline 'Mers not over, but S. Korea's streets safe: Envoy'. Print Edition | Subscribe