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Wuhan virus anxiety ruins plans for Koreans

Local health officials disinfect a Joseon era palace in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, on Thursday afternoon. (Yonhap)
Local health officials disinfect a Joseon era palace in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, on Thursday afternoon. (Yonhap)

Wuhan virus fears are setting off a wave of cancellations of plans and events across the country, with many Koreans choosing to avoid crowds and gatherings.

On Thursday, coastal cities Busan and Samcheok said they were scrapping plans for the annual celebration of Daeboreum, the first full moon of the year festival slated for early February.

Busan City office said this year’s full moon festival, scheduled for the first weekend of February at its popular Gwangalli beach, has been canceled in light of public health concerns.

On the same day, Jeju City announced it was canceling its spring greeting ceremony for the first time in 22 years over similar worries.

Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung said Wednesday public events have been suspended as part of measures to beef up disease-control efforts in the province.

Travel agencies have been hit hard as customers rush to cancel China tours. Tourism company Modetour said all China tour deals between Saturday and Friday have been withheld.

Local governments are likewise restricting overseas business trips. Two cities in Gyeonggi Province -- Suwon and Yongin -- have banned public officials from traveling to and from China and other countries with confirmed cases of the virus.

Shows and performances are also taking precautions.

State-run Daejeon Culture and Arts Foundation said it was taking a break from its performance program for the time being, until the epidemic subsides.

Broadcasters are thermal screening audience members and requiring them to wear face masks, as per the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The Seoul Broadcasting System said guests who are not wearing face masks will not be admitted to shows starting Feb. 2.

Universities are on high alert as large numbers of Chinese students are expected to return for spring semester.

Statistics Korea’s 2019 data showed nearly half of international students on Korean campuses come from China, accounting for 71,067 of 160,165.

In a meeting with university officials, the Ministry of Education on Wednesday asked that school events such as freshman orientations, student retreats and commencements be called off or postponed.

In addition, the ministry advised that academic calendars be adjusted for students from Wuhan and that health checkups be provided to students from all regions of China. Members of the student body and faculty who have entered the country from Hubei province after Jan. 13 will be quarantined at their homes for 14 days.

Following ministry recommendations, Yonsei University decided to indefinitely put off its new student orientation scheduled for mid-February. Other universities in Seoul, including Seoul National University, Ewha University and Hanyang University, closed their Korean-language classes offered mainly to foreign students.

According to the KCDC, while routes of transmission of the new virus have not yet been clearly identified, few cases of human-to-human transmission have been reported outside China. As there is a possibility asymptomatic patients can transmit the virus, contact with people who have recently been to infected areas is not advised, the KCDC said.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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