Time to pick ourselves upThe road blocks around Jangdeok in Sunchang County, North Jeolla, were removed, and residents were free to come and go as of midnight Friday. The entire village had been put under quarantine after a 72-year-old resident was diagnosed with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) after she was hospitalized in Pyeongtaek St. Mary’s Hospital in Gyeonggi, which had been the epicenter of the MERS virus. The entire 102 residents had to endure 14 days of segregation.
The woman died on June 12. No additional infections were reported from the town. The village helped to contain the spread because everyone cooperated and did not step out beyond the barricade. Communal power helped to defeat the virus. Neighbors willingly helped to look after the fields for the villagers who could not step out of their homes.
But the MERS scare has done more harm to the economy than the people. Sales of local farm produce halved upon report of the town being under quarantine even though the disease has nothing to do with food. Visitors to Mount Kangcheon plunged 76 percent. The restaurant and lodging industry has been hard hit. Sunchang County Mayor Hwang Suk-ju, who acted fast to enact the quarantine, is making a plea to ensure the safety of the local farms famous for their wild berries.
Hopes that the MERS outbreak would subside were raised after no new cases were reported from Samsung Medical Center, which had caused the epidemic to spread after it treated the first patient in its emergency room on May 20. The number of people under quarantine also fell to 799 from 5,930. Just one confirmed case was added. We cannot let down our guard, but the outbreak may be under control. The authorities, which stumbled in the early stages, worked systematically with local governments to contain the outbreak. World Health Organization Chief Margaret Chan shared her optimism that the “MERS outbreak will be brought under control [in Korea], although it may take a little longer than everyone would like to see.” The Seoul government had gotten off to a “slow start” but its efforts strengthened “very quickly and systematically and very significantly,” she said.
We must now concentrate on picking ourselves up. The authorities must continue trying to eradicate the virus and at the same time strive to stimulate the economy. We shone in past crises. We have defeated a financial crisis and an influenza pandemic. It is time for everyone - the government, politicians, companies, and citizens - to unite in order to combat and survive MERS together.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 20, Page 26