Data released by South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) confirms that Korea’s foodservice industry is being dramatically impacted by the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak. MAFRA announced that during the week of June 8-14, restaurant sales declined 38.5 percent compared to the final two weeks in May (MERS was first detected in Korea May 20, but emerged as a major public health concern near the end of the month). For dinner service at some higher-end restaurants, the decline in sales exceeded 50 percent. Restaurants and entertainment venues – such as amusement parks – have begun offering deep discounts in an effort to win back customers. Supermarkets have also been impacted, with store traffic down but an increase in demand for online shopping and delivery services.
Through June 19, 166 cases of MERS have been diagnosed in Korea and 24 deaths have been attributed to the disease. But only one new case was reported on June 19, suggesting that spread of the disease may be slowing. Health officials continue to emphasize that the vast majority of people impacted by MERS have been hospital patients with existing health conditions. But despite these assurances, the general public continues to avoid retail stores, restaurants and other crowded locations. This week Korean Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan announced that measures will be taken by the end of June to counter the negative impact on Korea’s economy, which has also been affected by severe drought conditions.