Flight bookings to South Korea have plummeted following the
outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), according to ForwardKeys,
a company that analyzes flight data.
MERS is a coronavirus that produces symptoms such as fever,
cough and shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization
(WHO). It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The first case of MERS in
South Korea was reported on May 20, and to date there have been 149 confirmed
MERS cases in South Korea and 15 deaths.
ForwardKeys data shows that between May 20 and June 5,
international flight bookings to South Korea were down 14.9%, compared to the
same period last year. Additionally, flight cancellations were up 21.3%,
compared with the same year-ago period.
Bookings from the U.S. to South Korea were down 28% between
May 20 and June 5, according to the data.
The ForwardKeys data shows there have already been more
cancellations and a drop in last-minute bookings for travel to South Korea in
June, though July appears to be relatively unaffected at this stage.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) does not recommend that Americans change their travel plans to South
Korea or other countries because of MERS. It advises travelers to take
precautions such as washing hands often with soap and water, or using an
alcohol-based hand sanitizer; avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth;
and avoiding close contact with sick people.
In the meantime, news media reported that schools across
South Korea reopened on Monday after being closed due to the outbreak, a sign
that the situation may be stabilizing somewhat.
“It is important that the authorities are open and
transparent in dealing with this virus so that the traveling public are in full
possession of all the facts and there is no unnecessary alarm and panic,” Mario
Hardy, CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, said in a statement about
the MERS outbreak in South Korea.