South Korea’s economy takes hit as MERS outbreak persists

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak currently plaguing South Korea is believed to be the largest outbreak of the virus that has ever occurred outside of Saudi Arabia, where MERS is thought to have originated.

The virus has thus far been contained to South Korean hospitals, but 15 people have died and at least 145 are reportedly infected, according to the BBC.

NewsHour Weekend’s Hari Sreenivasan spoke to NPR’s South Korea bureau chief, Elise Hu, on Sunday about the significant economic and political cost of the MERS outbreak.

You can watch the full Google+ hangout in the player below.

“The much-prized South Korean economy, as you know, is one of the biggest in the world, but it was already kind of stagnating because of a decline in exports, and now we’re seeing this big decline in consumer spending,” Hu said.

Hu explained that South Korea’s central bank this week took measures to prevent the outbreak from impacting the economy any more than it already has.

“There’s some debate as to whether this was preemptive, maybe too preemptive, but they announced they were going to cut interest rates down to 1.5 percent, which is a historic low, in order to stave off what they believe could be problems from the MERS outbreak on the economy,” she said.

South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye was scheduled to visit the United States this week to discuss security issues with President Barack Obama. She cancelled her trip to focus on the MERS virus outbreak in her country.