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K-pop fans, fearing flu, beg agencies to cancel Japan tours

Jan 28,2019
Reports that more than 2 million people in Japan have contracted influenza have spurred movements in and out of Korea asking K-pop agencies to cancel upcoming concerts in Japan for the sake of artists’ health.

“Please delay their concerts in Japan because serious illness is [spreading through] Japan,” wrote one Twitter user Sunday.

The user uploaded a photo of girl group EXID, along with a hashtag in Korean that read, “All agencies cancel trips to Japan.”

The group is scheduled to tour the Japanese cities of Osaka, Fukuoka, Nagoya and Tokyo from Feb. 10 to 16, where they will perform their new Japanese song “Trouble.”

The hashtag was used by hundreds of users on Twitter Sunday, including by fans of global K-pop sensation BTS. The boy band is performing in Fukuoka on Feb. 16 and 17.

“I hope, for the sake of all idol groups, that all agencies will cancel tours to Japan,” wrote a user with a handle beginning with “With_BTS” on Twitter Sunday.

“It is said that the influenza this year is more severe than the ones we experienced every year.”

The hubbub has also left some locals questioning whether they should cancel upcoming trips to Japan.

“We have a whole week scheduled in Japan for the Lunar New Year holiday,” said a 43-year-old office worker in Anyang, Gyeonggi, surnamed Jeong.

“I’m going with my parents, who are in their 70s, my wife and our two young children. But after seeing recent news reports, I am seriously considering canceling the trip altogether.”

Local media outlets in Japan have reported on the strange behavior of patients of influenza, including that of a woman in her 30s who reportedly fell into the tracks of a subway station in Tokyo and died Tuesday. She had earlier been diagnosed with the flu.

In Korea, a middle school student in Busan with the flu leaped to her death in December after taking Tamiflu, a popular flu medicine. This sparked public fear about strange effects from the flu or its medicine.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said there is nothing extraordinary about the flu in Japan this season.

“The scale of the influenza in Japan is not very serious compared to how it was in previous winters there,” said Park Ock, head of the infectious disease bureau of the KCDC. “The influenza virus hit Korea a bit earlier. Japan is going through the peak of the season now.

“Usually, around 5 to 10 percent of the country’s population can be infected in the seasonal bouts of influenza,” Park said. “So in Korea we could expect to have around 2.5 million to 5 million people infected at a point. Japan, which has a higher population than Korea, of course can have a higher number of patients.”

Park also said that the types of influenza in Japan are not different from those in Korea.

“Most of the patients in Japan are infected with H1N1 or H3N2 types, which are what most patients in Korea are infected with anyway,” Park said.

“For those traveling through Japan, make sure to wash your hands as often as possible. I would recommend getting vaccination shots as well, though it is too late now for those traveling over the Lunar New Year, as the antibodies will start forming two weeks after getting the shot. Nevertheless, it will help them stay vaccinated for the rest of the influenza season, which stretches into spring.”

Park said the phenomenon of strange behavior from influenza patients is not new.

“We’ve had reports on strange behaviors exhibited by influenza patients throughout the world before,” Park said. “But these cases are very small in number.”

“There have been studies in Japan that suggested that the influenza virus could cause inflammation in the brain, which could lead to the strange behavior,” said Lee Jae-gap, a doctor of infectious diseases at Hallym University Medical Center, western Seoul. “But no study has yet been able to pinpoint an exact cause behind the erratic behavior.”

BY RHEE ESTHER [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]