Global responsibilitiesSouth Korean health authorities have drawn heavy criticism at home and abroad for their lax response to Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), a deadly virus with no known cure, with the rapid outbreak already thought to have claimed two lives.
A Korean man who travelled to China via Hong Kong last week tested positive for MERS, raising alarm there. He passed local quarantine despite a fever and was confirmed positive in China. Some of the Koreans who had travelled in the same plane or bus with the infected man initially resisted complying with quarantine measures mandated by Hong Kong health authorities, moves which could stigmatize Korea, making it look selfish and slack in epidemic control.
We live in an age with numerous inexplicable diseases capable of becoming endemic. As a member of the global community, anyone showing symptoms for an epidemic virus should immediately report to health authorities. Koreans, most of whom have so far been lucky enough to avoid severe disease outbreaks, are not familiar with those procedures or cautionary practices. Likewise, health authorities have not established a strict quarantine surveillance protocol.
However, overseas travel has become commonplace. Infectious diseases no longer have borders and are carried via international human traffic. We must come up with an adequate quarantine system to meet these new challenges. Our citizens should also be cooperative and willing to place public interest before their own.
Hong Kong is a good example. After fighting off various deadly outbreaks, it has prevention regulations for controlling communicable diseases. Under the law, a health official can command an infected person, or those who have come in to contact with an infected person, to be quarantined. Anyone who violates that law can face a fine of up to 10,000 yuan ($1,613) or a jail term of up to six months. The law was enacted after more than 650 people died in Hong Kong and China in the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.
We must establish a public system for civilians in which to address communicable diseases. Korea must be more conscious of public health risks, and that can only be accomplished through campaigning and education. It should be rudimentary practice for all members in the global community.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 2, Page 30