Hong Kong issues Mers red alert on travel to South Korea
Hong Kong issued a “red alert” advisory yesterday against non-essential travel to South Korea, where eight new cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) were reported, bringing the total to 95, with seven fatalities.
The number of new South Korean cases was a sharp drop from 23 on Monday, but the number of schools closed grew to 2,208, including 20 universities.
“At this stage, to issue a clear message is something the Hong Kong government thinks is necessary,” Hong Kong’s number two official, Carrie Lam, told reporters just before the travel warning was posted.
A red alert, the second-highest outbound travel advisory on a three-point scale, is defined as a “significant threat” according to the Hong Kong government, and means people should “adjust travel plans” and “avoid non-essential travel”.
On Monday, Hong Kong upgraded its response to the outbreak in South Korea to “serious”.
Meanwhile, Nam Kyung-pil, governor of Gyeonggi province, which surrounds the South Korean capital, Seoul, said 32 of its large general hospitals have joined the campaign to fight the outbreak by offering to take in anyone who is showing MERS symptoms.
“We are fighting two wars; The war against the disease and the war against fear,” Nam said.
The head of the Korean Hospital Association, who accompanied the country’s deputy prime minister on a visit yesterday to a Daejeon hospital, where Mers patients were being treated, criticised the government for poor communication.
“The hospitals that did not receive information on patients have been wounded deeply,” Park Sang-geun said during an open meeting.
It was only on Sunday that South Korean officials released the names of all the health facilities where Mers victims had been treated or visited, which now number 35.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) began work on a joint mission with South Korean doctors and officials to review the country’s response and analyse the virus.
The WHO has not recommended any curb on travel, but thousands of tourists have cancelled plans to visit South Korea. South Korea’s response has been aggressive and is
getting better, a WHO specialist, Peter Ben Embarek, said in Geneva.
He added that it should still not be surprising if there were a few cases of infection occurring outside hospitals.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has called for an all-out national effort to eradicate the outbreak, which has been spreading since a 68-year-old businessman brought it home from a Middle East trip last month.
South Korea has the second highest number of infections, after Saudi Arabia, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
South Korea’s new cases bring the total of Mers cases globally to 1,244, based on WHO data, with at least 446 related deaths.