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South Korea’s Park postpones U.S. trip as MERS cases rise

South Korean President Park Geun-hye postponed a U.S. visit on Wednesday to supervise the handling of an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), as two more people died and 13 new cases were reported, lifting the total number of patients to 108.

Park had been due to leave for the United States, her country’s closest ally, on Sunday and meet President Barack Obama on Tuesday. Her office said the coming week would be a “watershed” for the country’s response to the disease.

The outbreak has fuelled public anxiety and hit spending, with thousands in quarantine and the number of schools closing rising to 2,474, including 22 universities. Many people on the streets are wearing face masks, while attendance at movie theatres and baseball games has dwindled.

First identified in humans in 2012, MERS is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that triggered China’s deadly 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). There is no cure or vaccine.

Some countries around the region have issued advisories against travel to South Korea or stepped up screening of inbound passengers, dealing a setback to a tourism sector that had been a bright spot for the flagging South Korean economy.

The main Incheon airport said the number of passenger arrivals increased year on year between May 20 and June 5, but showed 25 percent and 31 percent drops on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

Taiwan’s two biggest airlines are temporarily cutting flights to South Korea by nearly half. Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd (0293.HK) said it had seen a drop in bookings to South Korea.

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