Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) rattled South Korean society in 2015 and dealt a significant blow to the nation’s economy.
During a period of 190 days, 186 people became infected and 38 died from MERS. The outbreak pushed down economic growth by bringing about a slump in domestic demand and a decline in the number of tourists.
When the first MERS patient entered the nation on May 20 from Saudi Arabia, the virus was not regarded to be strongly contagious. No serious concerns emerged as no major outbreaks were reported in regions other than the Middle East.
However, contrary to such expectations, the virus spread quickly, sparking fear throughout society.
Hospitals that handled MERS cases closed their doors and large malls, restaurants and amusement parks witnessed sharp drops in customers. Even some schools closed temporarily.
The failure of quarantine officials to respond to the virus in the early stage was cited as one reason MERS spread so quickly in South Korea.
Another was South Korea’s unique hospital culture. In South Korea, nurses and family members take care of sick patients in an enclosed space housing many other patients. Another characteristic of the nation’s hospital culture is that patients tend to visit a number of hospitals to get diagnoses.
Thus, in South Korea’s case, MERS infections mainly took place within hospitals rather than a particular region.
The government declared the official end to the MERS outbreak at midnight on December 23rd.
Distribution and service industries, including transportation, lodgings, restaurants and leisure businesses, were hit hard by the spread of MERS.
Between June and September, the number of foreign tourists shrank by more than one-and-a-half million from the same period last year after Chinese tourists canceled travel plans out of fear of catching the virus. The South Korean tourism industry is estimated to have suffered losses of around three trillion won.
In the wake of the MERS scare, the government more than doubled its number of epidemiologists and upgraded the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to vice minister. It also took follow-up steps to build and designate hospitals to handle infectious diseases.