Last updated: 10:52 AM ET, Thu June 11 2015

MERS Outbreak Spreads, Continues to Impact South Korea Tourism

Impacting Travel | Patrick Clarke | June 11, 2015

MERS Outbreak Spreads, Continues to Impact South Korea Tourism

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Despite ongoing attempts to contain the recent outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in South Korea, Asian officials fear the virus has spread to nearby countries.

According to news service RT, the number of confirmed cases in South Korea reached 122 on Thursday. On top of the growing number of cases in South Korea, two people in Hong Kong are being tested for the virus, one man has tested positive in China and another man in Taiwan has been hospitalized with symptoms consistent with the virus. 

So far, 10 people in South Korea have died from MERS. 

In response to the threat, South Korean officials have closed thousands of schools across the country and more than 3,200 people who are feared to have come in contact with MERS remain quarantined. 

Several nearby countries have issued travel alerts and warnings to their residents, either recommending their citizens avoid non-essential travel to South Korea or take precautions and avoid visiting medical institutions upon arrival.

Hong Kong, which issued a red alert warning against all non-essential travel to South Korea earlier this week, has canceled as many as 600 tours to the country as a result, according to RT.

Even more devastating to South Korea's tourism industry, flight bookings have dropped off dramatically in the wake of the outbreak. 

"According to ForwardKeys, data shows that from May 20 to June 5, total international bookings to South Korea were down 14.9 percent, while total cancellations were up 21.3 percent compared with the same period last year," writes TravelPulse's Rich Thomaselli. 

In addition to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau have issued alerts and advisories regarding travel to South Korea. Taiwan expanded its alert to include the entire country on Tuesday, while Macau has advised residents against traveling to South Korea altogether. 

Taiwan's two leading airlines also announced plans to temporarily cut nearly half of their scheduled flights to South Korea while health officials work to eradicate the virus.

It remains to be seen how severely an impact the warnings and precautions will have on South Korea's tourism sector in the near future, but nevertheless preventing the spread of MERS will continue to be the top priority.

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