As analysts scramble to gauge the likely economic impact of Middle East Respiratory Syndromeon the South Korean economy, internet searches for MERS point toward a downturn.

As the chart below shows, Koreans have rushed to the web for information on the viral outbreak with an intensity that’s eclipsed searches in the aftermath of the sinking of the Sewol ferry last year.

When the Sewol overturned, killing around 300 people, mostly school children, the nation plunged into mourning and consumer spending slumped. Internet searches provided an early clue to the possible impact before more conventional economic data emerged.


The disease, which was first reported in South Korea in May, had sickened 169 people and killed 25 people as of June 21 in the Asian nation after spreading from the Middle East. MERS, like the Sewol tragedy, is hitting the economy at a time when it had been showing signs of recovery in sentiment.

It’s already prompted the central bank topre-emptively cut borrowing coststo a record low, even before the emergence of hard data. MERS poses an “imminent risk” to  consumption, Governor Lee Ju Yeol warned on June 11.

MERS is also worrying for South Korea because it’s scaring away tourists from overseas, with more than 120,000 travelers canceling trips since June 1, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Memories of the SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003 resonates with  prospective visitors from Hong Kongandmainland China, where hundreds were killedin that outbreak.


This article was written by Jiyeun Lee from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Photo Credit: A woman wears a mask as a precaution against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) as she passes by a South Korean national flag in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, June 11, 2015. Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press