Eradicating MERS

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Eradicating MERS

The government on Sunday released a detailed list of 24 hospitals at which Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) infections have occurred - 18 days after the first patient was diagnosed. Acting Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan said in a press conference that the administration will make MERS-related information public to a maximum level and reinforce cooperation with local governments and education offices nationwide.

On the same day, Minister of Health and Welfare Moon Hyung-pyo pledged to cooperate with the heads of the four metropolitan cities and provincial governments attending the press conference.

Ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-Sung agreed with his opposition counterpart Moon Jae-in, the chairman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), to set up a special committee at the National Assembly to help the government effectively fight potentially fatal respiratory illness.

Fortunately, Korea has kicked off a national-level drive - though belated - to counter the MERS threat. We hope the central and provincial governments and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle will stop zigzagging on the issue once and for all.

Though MERS has forced more than 2,000 people to be quarantined, 560 of them have already been released after proving asymptomatic. And despite deepening worries about the fast spread of infections at hospitals, MERS has stopped short of directly hitting communities. If we aggressively fight the disease, it will likely begin to subside starting this week.

However, health authorities must closely monitor those who caught MERS at hospitals. The authorities said that June 12 will be a watershed moment, as it will mark 14 days - the maximum incubation period for the virus - after medical staff treated the first MERS patient at Pyeongtaek St. Mary’s Hospital, the epicenter of the massive infection. But secondary infections from Samsung Medical Center have still rung alarm bells, because 893 people are suspected to have come in contact with Patient No. 14 - who infected as many as 17 people as of Sunday.

Because the local MERS virus is not a strain of the original virus, airborne infections are not likely to occur in our communities. Yet the government, the medical sector and our citizens must be careful until the illness is eliminated. If the government, local administrations and the medical industry fight the disease together, we will soon overcome this crisis, too.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 8, Page 30

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