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South Korea: Mers virus outbreak is over

Chumthang News Service
SEOUL: Prime minister urges people to ‘resume normal daily activities’ after 36 people died and panic left economy struggling

South Korea has declared an end to a deadly outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) that killed 36 people, triggered widespread panic and stymied growth in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
Addressing a meeting of government officials in Seoul, the prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn, said the danger posed by what had been the biggest outbreak of the virus outside Saudi Arabia was over.

“After weighing various circumstances the medical personnel and the government judge that the people can now be free from worry,” Hwang said.
“I ask the public to shake off all concerns over Mers and to resume normal daily activities, including economic, cultural, leisure and school activities.”
Thousands of schools were closed at the peak of the outbreak and it took a heavy toll on the national economy, stifling consumer spending and devastating the tourist sector.
Local businesses including shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas reported a sharp drop in sales as people shunned public venues with large crowds.
The government recently announced a stimulus package of 22tn won (US$19.8bn/£12.7bn), much of which was aimed at supporting businesses hurt by the crisis.
This month the Bank of Korea (BOK) cut its 2015 economic growth forecast for the third time this year, from 3.1% growth to 2.8%.
Citing sluggish exports and weak domestic consumption – exacerbated by the Mers outbreak – the central bank kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record low of 1.5%.
While no additional Mers infections have been reported since 4 July, BOK governor Lee Ju-yeol said the economic impact  through August.
Tourism was hit particularly hard, with the number of foreign visitors plunging by more than 40% in June compared with a year ago, and by a further 60% in the first two weeks of July.
Seoul plans to spend up to 30bn won on campaigns to lure back travellers including free promotional tours and large concerts by big-name K-pop stars.
“We are particularly eager to bring back Chinese tourists,” tourism vice-minister Kim Chong said.
The virus is considered a deadlier but less infectious cousin of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed hundreds of people when it appeared in Asia in 2003.
Criticised for its initial response to the outbreak, the government introduced sweeping quarantine measures that saw nearly 17,000 people confined to their homes.
The policy was effective in restricting the spread of the disease to medical facilities, with no infections reported in the wider community.

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