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Economic Concerns Grow in S. Korea as MERS Death Toll Rises

  • VOA News

FILE - Passengers wearing masks as a precaution against the MERS virus make their way after they got off a train at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, June 18, 2015.

FILE - Passengers wearing masks as a precaution against the MERS virus make their way after they got off a train at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, June 18, 2015.

South Korea's health ministry reported two more deaths from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) Thursday, while Seoul's finance ministry announced a stimulus package amid concerns the outbreak is hurting the country's economy.

The latest deaths bring the number of fatalities from the MERS outbreak to 29. Seventy-seven people are still being treated for the virus, include 15 in critical condition.

Though the spread of the disease has slowed, the outbreak could be having a much longer term impact on South Korea's economy.

Seoul's finance ministry on Thursday slashed its forecast for growth this year from 3.8 percent to 3.1 percent. "I am concerned growth will lag below 1 percent for a fifth straight quarter into the second quarter," said Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan at a press conference.

The ministry also announced a $13.5 billion economic stimulus package. It will include an extra budget to help offset the effects of the MERS outbreak, but the amount of that fund has not been determined.

Growth has suffered as many South Koreans who fear becoming infected by MERS have stayed away from stores and other crowded public places.

Foreign tourism has also taken a hit. The finance ministry said Thursday that 120,000 foreign tourists have canceled trips to South Korea since the outbreak was discovered just over a month ago.

Even before the outbreak, South Korea's economy had struggled to grow, in part because the country's exporters had been held back by lagging overseas demand.

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