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Shanghai Festival Tells Korean Guests to Stay Away Due to Virus (UPDATED)

The Shanghai International Film Festival has told dozens of Korean executives and film makers not to attend the festival, which opens on Saturday, for fear of spreading the lethal Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome.

The festival sent out emailed letters overnight between Wednesday and Thursday (June 10 and 11 local time) explaining that it had “cancelled certain activities” and asked the addressees not to travel to Shanghai. The letters were signed by the SIFF Committee.

“According to the current circumstance of the breakout and development of MERS virus, the Korean government has adopted a series of protection measures and cancelled mass events and activities. As the guest for SIFF, we consider your health and hope you are taking extra protections and maintain a wellbeing,” the letter read.

“With the consideration for all the guest health, our festival organizing committee has also took some protection measures. We have cancelled some relevant activities. Furthermore, we seriously suggest you to consider cancelling your upcoming trip to Shanghai.”

“Guess I have to cancel my trip,” wrote producer Jonathan Kim on Facebook, after he received one of the letters.

“We are seeking further advice,” said a source at CJ Entertainment on Thursday morning. “It is very confusing. We received the letter at about 4 a.m., but we also have received hotel confirmations, and we’ve paid for flights.”

The festival had scheduled two Korean movies, both represented internationally by CJ, set for main competition: “Shameless,” which had its international debut last month in Cannes, and “Salut d’Amour” by Kang Je-gyu. It is unclear whether the festival intends to proceed with screenings of the movies if the executives and talent do not travel to China.

Later in the day Korean media reported that both Kang and “Shameless” director Oh Seung-wook had cancelled their travel plans. Popular stars Bae Doo-na, Jang Dong-gun  and So Ji-sub announced that they too had cancelled. Bae and Jang had been invited to the Jackie Chan martial arts sidebar and also to the festival closing ceremony.

It is understood that the festival was pressed into the measure by the Shanghai city government.

If Korean people insists on coming to the festival, they will be sent to a designated hotel far from the city center and will not allowed to join any official film festival activities, including screenings, markets and forums. They will be allowed to conduct private meetings, but they will be routinely inspected daily.

Contacted by Variety, the festival has so far not made any comment or explanation. “We are currently waiting for the official statement from the organizing committee,” a publicist said some 12 hours after the letters had been sent out.

“Nobody here in Korea is angry at SIFF,” Kim later told Variety by email. “We are angry with the Korean government.”

Others were less sanguine. “This is so tactless and idiotic,” said one on line commentator. “It makes us Chinese look horrible.” Still others described it as a “PR blunder.”

As of Wednesday, 107 MERS cases have been reported by South Korea, which is the country outside the Middle East most affected by the outbreak. One further case has been exported from Korea to China. Over 1,000 people are now in quarantine in Korea as the government reacts to charges that its initial measures were slow or lax.

The coronavirus has similar characteristics to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome which hit Asia, and Hong Kong in particular, in late 2002 and early 2003. MERS is less infectious, and can be caught only in close proximity to a carrier, but it is more deadly. Worldwide there have been 444 deaths from MERS.

Numerous countries and territories around Asia – including Hong Kong and Taiwan – have issued formal alerts urging their citizens to cancel all but essential travel to South Korea.

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