|Signboards for plastic surgery hospitals in Gangnam, Seoul. / Korea times file|
By Kim Jae-heun
Plastic surgery hospitals here are refusing to take Chinese customers amid growing concerns over the coronavirus.
One popular plastic surgery clinic located in Gangnam, the country's most vibrant district, has put up a notice stating that it will not receive Chinese customers or those who have visited China within the last 14 days.
The hospital made the decision due to the reluctance of local customers visiting places popular with Chinese medical tourists. This doesn't bode well for many other clinics that took similar action as over 30 percent of foreign patients in 2018 were Chinese.
According to the Korea Health Industry Development Institute's report, in 2018 a total 378,967 Chinese received cosmetic surgery here. Americans and Japanese ranked second and third, respectively, but their combined number only amounted to 87,776.
Still, the hospitals had no choice but to stop receiving Chinese customers when the third victim diagnosed with the new coronavirus here reportedly visited a plastic surgery clinic in Gangnam on Jan. 22 and 24.
The patient, a Korean man who returned home from Wuhan in China on Jan. 20, visited Glovi Plastic Surgery hospital twice along with this friend. He is thought to have spread the virus to the sixth confirmed patient.
A medical tourism insider said the situation is worse than when the Chinese government banned its people from visiting Seoul in economic retaliation for deploying American missile defense system THAAD here in 2017.
This time, Beijing has officially banned overseas group tours as of Jan. 27.
"We are witnessing a decrease in the number of both Chinese and Korean patients amid growing concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus...This is because Chinese (patients) visit local cosmetic surgery hospitals and domestic patients want to avoid them," said a plastic surgeon at a hospital in Gangnam under the condition of anonymity.
"We barely have any patients scheduled to undergo plastic surgery this week and only a few are visiting to receive minor treatments. I think the situation will not get better this month. If things don't change, small hospitals could close down," a plastic surgeon added.
Other cosmetic surgery clinics still receiving Chinese customers have strengthened their preventive measures to block the epidemic in their hospitals.
One of the biggest plastic surgery hospitals iWell in Gangnam has adopted thermal cameras to check visitors' body temperatures upon entry. If a temperature above 37.5 degree Celsius is recorded, an alarm goes is raised.
The clinic staff has to wear face masks and frequently use hand sanitizers.
Those who have visited China in the last two weeks or have respiratory symptoms and fever are banned from entering the hospital.