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Businesses Struggle Amid MERS Scare

2015/06/21 Source

The main street in the shopping district of Myeong-dong, Seoul is empty amid fears of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome on Wednesday. /Newsis

The outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which began with the first confirmed case on May 20, has caused many businesses and workers to struggle to make ends meet.

Stores and restaurants are suffering a sharp decline in business, while some workers have been forced to take unpaid leave amid the spread of the contagious disease.

One taxi driver parked in front of a sprawling shopping mall in western Seoul on Tuesday afternoon had his window open despite 30-degree temperatures. "I try to ventilate my car as often as possible due to MERS", he said.

Many cab drivers are reluctant to wear surgical masks since they are afraid of scaring off customers. A spokesman for the Seoul private taxi association said, "We told our members not to wear masks, since this may lead to perceptions that drivers are infected. Instead, we advised them to avoid speaking to customers in order to prevent possible infections and to ventilate their cars frequently".

The association also disinfected the seats and interiors of 50,000 private cabs in Seoul.

Restaurants are offering new items on their menu in order to entice customers. One buckwheat noodle restaurant in Seoul sent out text messages to customers telling them that eating grains bolsters the immune system and offered free dumplings. Another restaurant in the capital has started passing out surgical masks to customers.

Private crammers have closed temporarily as many schools also shut, but some are providing home study materials or offering makeup lessons at the weekend.

One staffer at a private crammer said, "Unlike public schools, we have to reimburse students for closures. We plan to reopen next week since we must pay our teachers and rent".

Faced with a sharp drop in visitors, amusement parks are also offering new deals. Everland advertises 40-percent discounts for families who visit with preschool children. Some websites are offering amusement park tickets at 50-percent discounts.

Some duty free shops in Seoul, which used to be bustling with Chinese visitors, have closed temporarily. One employee said, "We've seen a sharp drop in the number of customers due to MERS, but it is unfair to give workers days off without pay. I'll have to look for other work in order to make ends meet".

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