Hong Kong has issued statements advising against non-essential travel to South Korea following the MERS outbreak today, after the country reported its sixth death from the deadly virus.

In a statement this afternoon, HKSAR Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said that the government is “very concerned” with the MERS outbreak in Korea.

“We appeal to the general public to avoid non-essential travel to the Republic of Korea,” Ko said. The government stressed that people with chronic illnesses should avoid visiting the country now.

Hong Kong officials meeting to discuss on MERS outbreak in Korea
Hong Kong officials meeting to discuss on MERS outbreak in Korea. Photo: GovHK.

The Centre for Health Protection also advised travellers in the Middle East region not to visit farms, and to avoid contact with sick persons and animals.

The advice comes following confirmation from South Korea that 87 people have been infected with the deadly virus.

Ko said that the decision was made following an interdepartmental meeting, adding that the response level regarding the disease in Hong Kong was raised from alert to serious.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, more commonly known as MERS, is a deadly infectious disease that experts warned could become an epidemic. The outbreak of the disease is marked the largest outside Saudi Arabia, where close to 1000 people have been infected since 2012. South Korea reported its first MERS case on May 20.

The government’s decisions also came after Hong Kong quarantined two more people travelling from South Korea to Hong Kong on Sunday. Local authorities stepped up surveillance on potential MERS infections after Hong Kong authorities intercepted a 32-year-old South Korean man suspected to be infected with the MERS virus at the Hong Kong airport.

Hong Kong International Airport (via WikiCommons)
Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: WikiCommons.

The man is currently under mandatory quarantine at the Lady MacLehose Holiday Village in Sai Kung. The premise was designated by the government as a temporary isolation facility for potential MERS patients.

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Ko stressed that the risk of community outbreak of MERS in South Korea has increased, and that the government is issuing a travel advice rather than an official travel alert.

On Sunday, South Korean authorities released the list of 24 institutions that treated MERS patients. Hong Kong’s Centre of Health Protection urged people who visited these South Korean health institutions to contact the authorities for further assessment.

Eric is currently a Bachelor of Journalism student at the University of Hong Kong. Eric has his finger on the pulse of Hong Kong events and politics. His work has been published on The Guardian, Reuters and ABC News (America).