How not to deal with MERSMiddle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) continues to spread in Korea. Following the death on Monday of two people infected with the fatal illness, two cases involving third-party infections occurred. Korea now has the third largest population of MERS patients - 25 as of Tuesday - following Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. As uncertainty over the disease prevails, an increasing number of parents are not sending their children to school and the elderly and the weak are canceling appointments at hospitals. This can all be traced back to the government’s inadequate reaction from the start.
The government’s lethargic response earned Korea the dishonor of letting MERS get out of control. Hong Kong is reinforcing a close monitoring of Koreans traveling there. Japan demands Korean nationals and Japanese travelers to Korea meet health authorities if they show symptoms of a fever. Stock prices of airlines and travel agencies are plunging, and foreigners are rushing to cancel trips to Korea. Korea has to worry about its national credibility.
The government has set up an emergency task force to stop MERS from spreading further. Health authorities belatedly decided to dispatch officials to the countermeasure headquarters to raise the number of isolation wards and devise ways to help hospitals treat MERS patients. The government deserves criticism for its supine initial reaction.
Despite the Ministry of Health and Welfare raising the status of the head of the countermeasure headquarters from deputy minister to minister, the public is outraged over the way the government deals with an obvious national emergency.
It is time to stop MERS from spreading further by mobilizing all of the nation’s medical resources. The government must take emergency steps to come up with effective ways to fight the disease by recruiting all related medical experts on a national scale, including medical professionals overseas if necessary. That could help us fight the MERS coronavirus. The government also must consider the idea of temporarily shutting down the hospitals where MERS patients were first reported.
Now is the time for the nation to do its best to avoid a worst-case scenario. Above all, the government must establish a reliable system in which quarantine and customs officers immediately send travelers showing MERS-related symptoms to the disease control center for emergency medical checkups. The government must also educate the public on how to avoid catching the virus. The clock is ticking.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 3, Page 30