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How one joke photo has become a symbol of South Korea’s fears about MERS

A young South Korean couple and dozens of guests jokingly pose for a group picture wearing surgical masks on June 6. (Sewing for the Soil via AFP/Getty Images)
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The fear of MERS in South Korea is real but a photo that has become a symbol of that fear is not.

It’s a joke but that didn’t stop it from going viral.

Contracted through close contact, the virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has negatively impacted attendance in public places in South Korea. Reuters reports that department stores, discount stores, movie theaters, amusement parks, and baseball stadiums have also seen declines in sales or visitors. Fearful shoppers are skipping brick-and-mortar shops and turning to Internet vendors instead as evidenced by an increase in online purchases in the country, according to Reuters.

So far, 9 people have died, the total number of infections sits at 108 and more than 2,800 are quarantined.

[Past coverage: 9 things you need to know about MERS]

So when a young couple’s wedding photo — which shows the couple along with their guests all wearing surgical masks — hit South Korean social media, it became a statement about how MERS is plaguing the county.

South Korea battles MERS

A worker wearing protective gear fumigates as a precaution against the spread of MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, virus outside Wangsimni Subway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, June 11, 2015. Experts from the World Health Organization and South Korea on Wednesday urged the reopening of more than 2,700 schools closed over fears of the deadly MERS virus.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

[South Korea’s Park delays trip to U.S. over MERS outbreak]

But the couple and their guests had no intention of making a statement.

Hwang Myung-Hwan, the couple’s wedding planner, told Agence France-Press the photo wasn’t suppose to be taken seriously.

“They had already taken normal group photos without masks when they decided to do something fun,” he told AFP. Hwang said his “firm had handed out 200 masks as a message for ‘the couple to live a healthy life’ together,” AFP also reported.

“The photo was never meant to fan fears about MERS or scare anyone,” Hwang said.

But the photo’s intended message was quickly lost as it was shared and reposted online.

South Korea announced two more deaths from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, bringing the total to nine. (Video: Reuters)

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