S Korean airports put on alert

S Korean airports put on alert
Passengers wearing masks to prevent contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) walk past a thermal imaging camera at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea

The nation's two airport operators are panicking over the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome, worried about its impact on passenger traffic.

In line with the level 2 health warning issued by the Korea Centres for Disease Control, the Incheon International Airport Corp. and Korea Airports Corp. ― which runs 14 airports nationwide, including Gimpo Airport ― said they had established a task force each to deal with issues related to the disease since May 22.

The task force is in charge of taking different measures to prevent the MERS outbreak at airports.

"The team has strengthened publicity on symptoms of the dangerous disease and ways to cope with it through all communication channels not only for passengers but also for airport staff,'' said Kim Kyoung-hwa, head of the public relations team at KAC.

As for technical measures, the airport operators check the temperatures of inbound passengers near the arrival gates, while sterilizing the airport every day.

They are also keeping a close watch on passengers from the Middle East by running separate ramps for flights from the region.

Those who are suspected of MERS infection are immediately sent to an isolated place for questioning, temporarily set up within the quarantine zone at each airport.

"It is too early to tell the impact MERS outbreak will have on airport passenger traffic, but we believe the number of visitors will fall if the situation prolongs,'' Kim said.

Both the airport operators are seeing signs of a slowdown in visitors from China, which make up the largest share of inbound passengers.

Fast-growing Chinese tourism boosted the profits of two financially suffering local airports ― Chungju Airport and Daegu Airport ― enabling them to turnaround last year, KRC said. Eleven KAC-operated airports ― except Gimpo, Jeju and Gimhae ― have long been in the red.

 

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