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Singapore firms in South Korea on Mers alert

Still, travel and hospitality outfits report rising number of cancellations

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Companies with businesses in South Korea appear prepared to handle the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) outbreak there, even as travel and hospitality sectors are facing a rising number of cancellations.

Singapore

COMPANIES with businesses in South Korea appear prepared to handle the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) outbreak there, even as travel and hospitality sectors are facing a rising number of cancellations.

The moves by Ascott, which runs serviced apartments in Seoul, are typical of the precautions taken.

Its employees have been briefed on the symptoms of the illness and trained in preventive and containment procedures such as contact tracing, that is, the task of finding and identifying everyone who might have come into contact with an infected individual.

Max Phillips, area manager of Ascott's Somerset Palace Seoul said via e-mail: "It is business as usual at our property."

He added that, as the housekeeping staff go about disinfecting the public areas within the premises daily, the company monitors its use of its supply of personal protection kits (comprising thermometers and masks) to see that sufficient stock is maintained.

Over at Banyan Tree's resort spa in Seoul, the pandemic-control exercises and precautions prescribed by the South Korean Ministry of Health have been completed, said its spokesman.

PSA International (which operates Incheon Container Terminal and Pusan Newport International Terminal) and the Samsung Group's construction arm Samsung C&T Corporation, have also taken precautionary measures to prevent infection among their workers.

These include checking employees' temperatures daily, distributing face masks and sanitisers and discouraging them from travelling and being in crowded areas.

The spokesmen from both companies said it is business as usual despite the added precautions.

The spokeswoman for Singapore-based education group EtonHouse, which runs several international schools in South Korea, pointed out that their schools follow the international school calendar, which means they will be closed from June 22 until late August.

"In this regard, Mers' impact on the international schools' and pre-schools' operations is expected to be minimal," she said.

Frasers Hospitality, which has three serviced apartment-hotels, one each in Insadong, Seoul and Namdaemun, said there have been cancellations of reservations across all three properties as leisure travellers change their plans to avoid the outbreak.

"We have also seen a slight drop in business travel as a few companies hold off planned business trips to Seoul," a Frasers spokeswoman said via e-mail.

The three properties have also suspended their regular social activities organised for residents, including outdoor ones.

A spokeswoman for Singapore-based travel agency Dynasty Travel said about 30 per cent of travellers (numbering around 100) had made cancellations or asked for deviations for trips booked to South Korea this month; when the outbreak was first publicised late last month, the cancellation rate was half that - at 15 per cent.

Deviations entail a change in the destination of a trip; the spokeswoman said customers are instead opting to visit Taiwan, Japan or Australia.

The slackening tourist numbers are already showing. Lotte Duty Free, South Korea's largest operator of duty-free shops, expects a decline in revenue for June, Bloomberg reported.

The Korea Tourism Organisation said that about 54,400 visitors have already cancelled their travel plans this month.

On the other hand, Rebecca Chia, marketing communications executive for local travel agency Chan Brothers, said only a minority of its South Korea-bound travellers - fewer than 10 people - have cancelled their travel plans, and under 10 per cent have postponed their trip or changed their destination. She did not say why the majority have chosen to keep their tickets.

"For our groups currently travelling in Korea, tours are running as per normal with the local guides and tour leaders accompanying groups for 24/7 on-the-road assistance," she said.

"Customers who have since returned from Korea have also cited that travel is as normal, with the exception of increased health precautions undertaken by locals and visitors."

Agence France-Presse reported on Friday South Korean officials as having said that the rate of new cases is slowing, with the number of new cases diagnosed falling to four - down from 14 on Thursday and 13 on Wednesday.

Nearly 3,700 people are currently under quarantine.