Chinese tourists flock to S. Korea as MERS scare dies down

July 16, 2015
A group of Chinese tourists leaves Incheon airport, west of Seoul, on July 13, 2015, as the group came to South Korea on a familiarization tour program organized by Korean Air Lines Co. South Korean airlines are ramping up efforts to lure Chinese tourists as the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is recently showing signs of slowing down. (Yonhap)

A group of Chinese tourists leaves Incheon airport, west of Seoul, on July 13, 2015, as the group came to South Korea on a familiarization tour program organized by Korean Air Lines Co. South Korean airlines are ramping up efforts to lure Chinese tourists as the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is recently showing signs of slowing down. (Yonhap)

SEOUL, July 16 (Yonhap) — Hundreds of Chinese toured a bustling shopping district in central Seoul on Thursday, in a sign that foreign tourists are returning to South Korea as the health scare over a respiratory virus is almost gone.

About 200 Chinese visitors, composed of heads of tour agencies, journalists and popular bloggers, walked through Myeongdong in a program co-sponsored by Asiana Airlines Inc., South Korea’s second-largest flag carrier, and Lotte Hotel.

The move is part of South Korea’s efforts to dispel lingering concerns abroad about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

The virus scared away foreign tourists as it has killed 36 South Koreans since the first case was confirmed on May 20.

Chinese visitors, who account for about half of foreign tourists in South Korea, had almost abandoned Myeongdong over the past few weeks out of concern they could contract the virus.

Medical experts said the virus can be transmitted through close contact with infected patients.

Still, no Chinese delegation was seen wearing a surgical mask as they toured Myeongdong, a sign of confidence that they are not worried about the virus.

“I was a bit scared before I arrived, but it was hard to find traces of MERS,” a 31-year-old journalist from China’s southern province of Hunan said. She said she would file a story after returning home that South Korea is safe and the MERS outbreak is over.

The trip by the Chinese delegation came as South Korea is considering declaring the official end of the MERS outbreak early next month if no new cases are confirmed until then.

South Korea reported no additional MERS cases for 11 straight days as of Thursday, a possible sign that the outbreak may be over.

In a symbolic gesture to Chinese tourists, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and other high-profile officials greeted them in Myeongdong, a favorite stop for foreigners.

Park said he plans to visit China next month to promote a campaign that South Korea is safe from the MERS outbreak, saying Seoul plans to hold various festivals to lure foreign tourists.

Asiana Airlines plans to invite 390 Japanese journalists and tourism and government officials next week on a similar program targeting Japanese tourists.

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