Itching to go: Hongkongers undeterred by South Korea bedbug outbreak, press on with trips armed with disinfectant, lights and insecticide

Hongkongers heading to South Korea have geared up with disinfectant, lights and insecticide to fight bedbugs, pressing on with their trips amid an outbreak of the pests in the country.

Queuing to check in at Hong Kong International Airport at around 10am on Thursday, 30-year-old Sabrina Leung said she was about to fly to Seoul with her husband and her grandmother, adding she would be extra vigilant during her trip.

“I brought some disinfectant spray, just for my own peace of mind, I don’t know whether it works,” she said. “I also brought several plastic bags as well, where I can pack my clothes after I go outside, so I can reduce the amount of time they will be exposed to the air.”

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The call centre worker said she was initially concerned about the outbreak and even considered rescheduling her trip, or travelling elsewhere.

“The moment I found out, I was thinking why it only happened when I was going,” she said. “But thinking about it deeper, bedbugs are an issue everywhere, so there is no need to be afraid,” she said.

Concerns over the possibility of an outbreak in Hong Kong have intensified after South Korea, a popular holiday destination for many locals, said there had been at least 33 reports of bedbug infestations across the country between the middle of last month and Sunday. The figures represent a sharp jump from only nine cases recorded by the country’s disease control agency in the past 10 years.

Travellers heading to South Korea have detailed their plans to protect luggage and clothing from bedbugs. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Seventeen suspected bedbug reports have been filed from seven of Seoul’s 25 districts.

Retail worker Gan Wong, 31, said she was not worried at all as she and her boyfriend would be renting their own vehicle and avoiding crowded areas on their six-day trip to Seoul to celebrate her birthday. But the couple said they had brought a can of insecticide and a light to ward off bed bugs as a precaution.

“We will also get rid of some of our clothes, so once we come back to Hong Kong, we will change into a new outfit before going home,” she said. “Some people were really extreme saying that they would throw their luggage as well, but we won’t.”

Wong said they were planning to throw away one or two sets of their own clothing when they returned, as well as thoroughly disinfecting their bags.

Others, however, were caught off guard by the outbreak. Tuby Zong, a university student on exchange in Hong Kong, said he was unaware of the situation when asked by a Post reporter about his trip to South Korea.

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Zong added he would check his bed when he arrived in the country, but did not plan to take any other measures.

“Honestly, just one step at a time,” the 21-year-old said. “I am going to Korea first and go from there.”

Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday evening said they would step up education efforts on controlling bedbugs and hand out leaflets to outgoing residents and incoming visitors.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, along with other government bodies, also reminded the Airport Authority and airlines to pay attention to the hygiene of aircraft and the airport.

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The department also met members of the hotel industry on Wednesday to provide suggestions and exchange views.

“The government’s work requires the cooperation of the public and relevant trade sectors,” a spokesman said. “We will therefore step up publicity and education work, maintain close communication with relevant sectors and provide different parties with information in order to prevent and control the spread of bedbugs together.”

But several tourists arriving in the city from South Korea on Thursday told the Post they were not given any information or leaflets regarding bedbugs.

Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners executive director Caspar Tsui Ying-wai on Thursday told a radio programme that his group had recommended that authorities get a clearer picture of which overseas places were experiencing serious outbreaks.

He noted that the amount of bedbug cases in Europe was fairly high, followed by Southeast Asia.

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