[EDITORIALS]Lessons from ChinaDark clouds are gathering over the government’s effort to prevent the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, from reaching Korea’s shores. China has reported that the number of SARS patients in China was eight times as high as Beijing had announced. The revelation came as large numbers of Korean students studying in China started to return home last weekend from schools forced to close temporarily because of fear of the disease.
Our health authorities are on alert. Recently, several suspected cases of SARS were reported here, including a man in his 40s who flew here from the United States, showing symptoms of pneumonia and with a high fever.
As of yesterday, a total of 3,800 people in 26 countries were listed as infected and 217 have died. The spread of SARS has been accelerating for more than a month. It is a matter of time before Korea will also be affected by this epidemic, considering its proximity to China, which failed to prevent the disease from spreading at an early stage. That nation is seeing the number of infections increase by 100 new patients a day. This poses a grave threat to Korea. Some of the 15,000 Korean students returning home may carry the SARS virus. Health authorities will check incoming passengers and hold suspected patients at quarantine facilities.
Health authorities announced there are no SARS patients in Korea. But they have failed to convince the people because of the way they have dealt with suspected patients and their overall preparedness. And they used different criteria when they announced the results of the diagnoses of suspected cases. Some government-appointed medical advisers raised objection on the criteria for the diagnoses. Some suspected patients were released from hospitals prematurely, raising worries over possible secondary infections.
The government must learn from China and its secrecy about the epidemic in its early stages. There is no need to panic, but there is also no reason to underestimate the danger. The best defense is to be on alert and be prepared to cope with the worst situation.