Asia Travel Planning: Is South Korea safe?

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I am about to embark in a trip of a lifetime in a month visiting Japan, South Korea and China. I have been planning this trip since last year and was really looking forward to discovering South Korea, a country that has caught my attention for its fast development, ingenuity and relationship with K-Pop and Korean dramas, of which I sadly know absolutely nothing about. Oh, and let’s not forget amazing cosmetics and Korean BBQ. Yum!

I can tell you all the things that I am excited to see, try and learn in this beautiful country and I will do so in future posts, but the question hanging over my head at this moment is if South Korea should even be in my itinerary or if I should go for plan B- skip it and extend my stay in Japan or China, the other two countries I am visiting during this trip.

As sneaky virus outbreaks usually go, MERs has struck South Korea in May and has already claimed the lives of 20+ people. The country is struggling to quarantine suspected infected people and is trying to disinfect major transportation hubs, in an attempt to contain the transmission of the airborne virus that has no cure and no vaccine.

My travelling companion for this part of the journey- my cousin- is thinking about skipping South Korea all together and that leaves me with a very hard decision. To go solo and brave an infection by an incurable virus or change my travel plans, forfeiting the cost of airfare and adding the cost of staying longer in Japan, China or another country all together. Cost aside, I am super bummed by the prospect of losing the chance of visiting South Korea. It’s highly unlikely that I will be traveling to Asia again in the next 5 years, so it may be a while before another chance like this might come along.

As media goes, there are so many articles out there and it’s highly confusing.

Pictures published by CNN of health workers spraying secret disinfectants in subways and theaters, and infected people in hospital beds are scary as hell and feed my anxiety and panic. The World Health Organization calls the outbreak a “Wake-up call”. I think “No way in hell I am going there!”

Then NPR publishes an article on how low the rate of transmission of MERs is (less than 5%) and the fact that most of the people infected by the virus have compromised immune systems or are currently interned/working in hospitals (none of which are applicable to me). I think ” Ok, Not so bad. I may be over reacting.” After all complications of the common cold seem to kill more people a year than MERs.

But still, I really don’t want to die, so I do additional research.

The US Department of State, which issues Alerts and Warnings for travelers, as of June 22nd, has not issued anything for South Korea, and the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has issued a clear statement that “CDC does not recommend that Americans change their travel plans to the Republic of Korea or other countries because of MERS.”

“Ok, if the CDC says it’s ok, then I have nothing to worry about….except that they kind of missed the boat on the Ebola outbreak in the US…. but then they developed a treatment… ”

I am confused again…

What would you do in my situation? Go or no go?



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