The Security Bureau raised the red travel alert on Tuesday, following concerns over the MERS outbreak in South Korea. This decision comes after the Department of Health first gave travelling health advice to the public on Monday.

The Travel Industry Council also announced that all tours to South Korea with departure dates from 9 June 2015 until 30 June 2015 will be cancelled. However, this does not include cruise tours. Acting Chief Executive Carrie Lam explained that the red travel alert would allow the tourism sector to take appropriate measures and arrangements.

Carrie Lam Michael Linhart
Carrie Lam with Michael Linhart in 2014. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Prior to attending the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Lam gave an account of the counter-measures to be taken against the MERS epidemic. She said that the Food and Health Bureau and Department Health has jointly given travelling health advice, asking the public not to proceed to South Korea if not absolutely necessary.

Lam noted the frequent exchanges between Hong Kong and South Korea, indicating the numerous tours and study trips are organised. She explained that the Security Bureau has informed the Travel Industry Council immediately so as to allow them to take the appropriate measures.

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The public is advised not to travel to South Korea if not necessary. Photo: Simonds.

Travellers enrolled on tours to South Korea before 1 June 2015 can withdraw their places and obtain refunds of their tour fees, air tickets and air passenger departure taxes. The refund does not include visa application fees, and travellers will be charged with handling fees. In accordance with the Competition Ordinance, the Travel Industry Council will not be able to arrange uniform refund arrangements for travellers enrolled in tours after 1 June 2015. Travellers who are affected by this arrangement will have to contact individual travel agencies for follow-up.

Tung Yao-chung, executive director of Travel Industry Council said that the red travel alert allows refund arrangements to be made conveniently. He said that the travelling health advice given on Monday brought dissatisfaction to some travel agencies, and will reflect to the Department of Health and Security Bureau to focus on travel alerts in the future.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, more commonly known as MERS or “New SARS”, is a viral respiratory infection. The outbreak of the disease in South Korea is marked the largest outside Saudi Arabia.

Paul Benedict Lee is an undergraduate law student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Paul has previously contributed to HK Magazine and Radio Television Hong Kong, covering issues ranging from local heritage conservation to arts features. He has also worked as a legal intern at local human rights firm Daly & Associates.