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[Newsmaker] Plastic surgery clinics endure drop in Chinese customers over coronavirus

Chinese people wearing masks and yellow raincoats at Incheon International Airport Terminal 1, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Chinese people wearing masks and yellow raincoats at Incheon International Airport Terminal 1, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s 5-trillion-won ($4.2 billion) plastic surgery industry is bleeding Chinese demand amidst the worsening coronavirus outbreak.

The Korea Health Industry Development Institute said that Chinese patients are canceling plastic surgeries while the Ministry of Health and Welfare is recommending hospitals to delay their medical services to foreigners after February to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.

“After monitoring whether major hospitals and plastic surgery clinics are following the Health Ministry’s protocol, we noticed that there are almost no Chinese patients” Kim Hee-jung, who is in charge of housing potential foreign patients at the KHIDI, said Tuesday.

“Chinese patients are making cancellations as the outbreak has escalated since February,” Kim added.

According to KHIDI, 118,310 Chinese patients received medical services in Korea in 2018 -- 27,852 of them taking plastic surgeries, accounting for 41.6 percent of total plastic surgeries received by foreigners.

Plastic surgeries in Korea have been popular among foreigners, including Chinese, with a high satisfactory rate.

A KHIDI survey showed that 95.8 of Chinese patients said they would revisit for Korea’s medical services, while 96.3 percent of them said they would recommend them to others.

Currently, more Chinese are leaving than entering Korea. In Feb. 22-26, 11,848 Chinese entered while 17,143 left Korea, according to the Ministry of Justice. On Feb. 26, only 1,404 of them visited Korea, a 92.6 percent decline from 18,743 on Jan. 13, which is the highest figure this year.

With or without cancellations, some plastic surgery clinics are refraining from receiving additional customers from overseas.

“Typically, spring is the high season for plastic surgery clinics as a high number of Chinese patients come in, but after Shincheonji Church of Jesus aggravated the outbreak, there are no more Chinese patients,” said an official from Glovi Plastic Surgery, which disinfected its facilities twice -- on Jan. 26 and Feb. 7 -- after the third and 28th confirmed patients from Wuhan visited the clinic on Jan. 22 and Jan. 24.

By Kim Byung-wook (