The ongoing outbreak of the new coronavirus has taken a significant toll on the Korean plastic surgery market, as international travelers shunned trips to the country due to the rapid increase of confirmed cases.
According to Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, the nation’s tourism revenue and expenditure totaled 1.88 trillion won ($1.53 billion) and 2.99 trillion won, respectively, making a tourism deficit of 1.1 trillion won in January when the spread of COVID-19 began.
Compared with the December figure, the tourism deficit widened by 223.6 billion won in January, as tourism income shrank by 362.3 billion won despite a 138.7 billion won reduction in tourism spending.
The Korea Tourism Organization statistics showed that the number of foreign travelers was estimated to be 1.27 million in January, down by 180,000 from December.
The persistent local spread of COVID-19 made not only foreign patients, but Koreans refrain from getting plastic surgeries.
Plastic surgery clinics said they suffered about a 70 percent reduction of patient visits after January. More clinics are refusing to receive foreign patients out of fear that a confirmed case could deal a critical blow to the clinic’s operation.
Large-scale plastic surgery clinics said they earn a significant portion of revenue from foreign patients but did not want to take the risk of getting a stigma that suspected international patients might have visited them. If rumors circulate that they performed surgeries for Chinese patients, for example, they could lose local patients, too, they said.
A director of a plastic surgery clinic in Apgujeong-dong of southern Seoul, once called the mecca of plastic surgeons among foreigners, said most patients who made the first reservation at the clinic canceled the visit, although those who want reconstruction surgeries still came.
Many patients who booked surgeries requiring general anesthesia canceled the surgeries or put off the schedule until the COVID-19 outbreak ends.
“When I think about the possibility that a confirmed patient may have visited my clinic, I’m scared. So, I’m trying to refuse to see patients from overseas or provincial areas,” the director said. “If I see a confirmed patient, my clinic will get quarantined for 15 days. That is more frightening. If a rumor goes around that my clinic accepted foreigners, local patients will stop coming to us.”
Another plastic surgery clinic director said he had rarely visited for consultations. Except for existing patients who want to see the progress, there was almost no patient coming for surgery, he said.
The number of domestic patients plunged, and there was no foreign patient at all, he added. "Clinics that used to see foreign patients are suffering a lot," he said.
Slow patient visits made some clinics even close the service temporarily or pick no-reservation days for time off.
A third plastic surgery clinic director in Gangnam, southern Seoul, said the clinic was open, but he selected some days to shut the clinic temporarily because there were no reservations.
“What’s more concerning is that I’m not sure our business can recover to the level before the COVID-19 outbreak. I’m worried that a downturn might drag on,” he said.
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