MERS out­break forces S. Korea to cut key in­ter­est rate

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JUNG HA- WON

South Korea’s out­break of the po­ten­tially deadly MERS virus on Thurs­day forced the cen­tral bank to cut its key in­ter­est rate to ward off greater eco­nomic dam­age, as re­tail­ers re­port a slump in busi­ness.

And in what has be­come the largest out­break of Mid­dle East Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome (MERS) out­side Saudi Ara­bia, Seoul re­ported 14 new cases, in­clud­ing the first in­fec­tion of a preg­nant woman.

The new di­ag­noses brought to 122 the to­tal num­ber of con­firmed cases in South Korea, the health min­istry said. The num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties re­mained at nine, with no new deaths re­ported in the past 24 hours.

Bank of Korea gover­nor Lee Ju-yeol said slow­ing ex­ports and threats to busi­ness from MERS were cen­tral to the de­ci­sion to cut its bench­mark rate by a quar­ter per­cent­age point, to a record low of 1.5 per­cent. It was the first cut since March, when the cen­tral bank made a sur­prise cut of 25 ba­sis points.

“It’s been seen that this MERS cri­sis is hav­ing a neg­a­tive im­pact on con­sumer spend­ing,” the BoK chief told re­porters.

“The full im­pact of the out­break still re­mains un­cer­tain but we thought it was de­sir­able to act pre­emp­tively to curb its neg­a­tive im­pact on ... the econ­omy,” Lee said.

In a state­ment, the BoK added: “In par­tic­u­lar, we are con­cerned that eco­nomic and con­sumer sen­ti­ment, which had been im­prov­ing, will worsen rapidly be­cause of the MERS cri­sis.”

South Korean busi­nesses in­clud­ing shop­ping malls, restau­rants and movie the­aters have re­ported a sharp drop in sales as peo­ple shun public venues with large crowds.

More than 54,000 for­eign trav­el­ers have also can­celed planned trips to the coun­try so far this month, ac­cord­ing to the Korea Tourism Board. Hong Kong has is­sued a “red” alert warn­ing against nonessen­tial travel to South Korea for health rea­sons. Seoul says World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion guide­lines do not war­rant such ac­tion.

Res­i­dents of Hong Kong are par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive af­ter an out­break of Se­vere Acute Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome (SARS) killed 299 peo­ple in the city in 2003 and sparked global panic.

The MERS virus is con­sid­ered a dead­lier but less in­fec­tious cousin of SARS.

On Wed­nes­day, the area around a health clinic in­side a metro sta­tion in Hong Kong was cor­doned off and of­fi­cials donned protective gear af­ter a woman re­turn­ing from South Korea showed flu-like symptoms.

Sur­gi­cal masks re­port­edly sold out in shops around the sta­tion, but Hong Kong of­fi­cials con­firmed on Thurs­day that the woman had tested neg­a­tive for MERS.

‘Don’t over­re­act’

Grow­ing public alarm over the out­break this week forced South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye to cancel a planned June 14-18 trip to the United States.

South Korean Fi­nance Min­is­ter Choi Kyung-hwan has warned re­peat­edly that the im­pact of the out­break could se­ri­ously hurt Asia’s fourth-largest econ­omy.

But he urged the public “not to over­re­act” and to con­tinue nor­mal daily life, stress­ing in­fec­tions so far had been limited within hos­pi­tals.

Of the 14 new cases, eight were in­fected at Sam­sung Med­i­cal Cen­tre in Seoul, a ma­jor hos­pi­tal where 55 peo­ple are con­firmed to have con­tracted the virus. That is the largest clus­ter in the out­break.

A 39-year-old woman in her fi­nal trimester of preg­nancy was among those con­firmed Thurs­day to have ac­quired the virus at the hos­pi­tal.

“Of the 122 con­firmed cases, this is the first case in­volv­ing a preg­nant woman,” the health min­istry said, adding she was in a sta­ble con­di­tion.

An­other vic­tim con­tracted the virus at a hos­pi­tal in Hwaseong City, 40 kilo­me­ters (25 miles) south of Seoul, and five oth­ers are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion to dis­cover how they were in­fected.

More than 3,800 peo­ple who came into close con­tact with those in­fected are un­der quar­an­tine, ei­ther at their homes or at health care fa­cil­i­ties.

The first in­fected pa­tient was di­ag­nosed on May 20 af­ter a trip to Saudi Ara­bia.

The 68-year-old man vis­ited four med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties, in­fect­ing other pa­tients and medics, be­fore he was fi­nally di­ag­nosed, spark­ing crit­i­cism that au­thor­i­ties had bun­gled the ini­tial re­sponse.

AP

Work­ers wear­ing protective gear spray an­ti­sep­tic so­lu­tion as a pre­cau­tion against the spread of MERS (Mid­dle East Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome) virus out­side Wangsimni Sub­way Sta­tion in Seoul on Thurs­day, June 11.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Taiwan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.