To a safer future

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To a safer future

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-an has urged the public to get back to business as usual as the crisis over the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak is almost over. Seven countries lifted bans on their people’s trips to Korea. With the development, the MERS attack has basically ended 69 days since the first patient was diagnosed with the infection in May.

As one last patient is still recuperating from MERS, the government can’t officially declare the end of the infection until some time next month. The administration must not lower its guard against the potentially fatal disease until it’s totally over. It must not repeat the bad precedent from 2009 when swine flu wreaked havoc on our society, once again due to the government’s negligence. Emergency rooms at hospitals must stay on alert by maintaining a system to effectively protect outpatients from the danger of infection at the hospital.

Yet the government’s decision to declare an end to the outbreak appears appropriate given that no new patient has been found in recent weeks and quarantine measures were all lifted on Monday. We hope the government’s move helps the public to put their nightmares behind them and get back to normal.

The government must take this unfortunate event as an opportunity to revamp our overall medical systems in a comprehensive manner. It must figure out what really went wrong from the start and present concrete answers to the problems. The administration must hold any officials involved in the half-baked reactions to the outbreak accountable for colossal damages. Only then can it restore discipline. At the same time, the government must reward a number of public health officials for devotedly fighting the outbreak.

The government must make our society safer from the threat of infectious diseases by extensively reforming our outmoded medical systems, including overly crowded emergency rooms, unprofessional management of infections by hospitals, families staying all night with their sick relatives, irrational charges for medical treatment, a critical lack of investments in the prevention of infectious illnesses and an alarming scarcity of experts in epidemiology. To achieve that goal, the government must listen to various medical experts and establish a totally new public health system.

The government and the civilian sector must cooperate. We need to consider the idea of establishing a joint public-private body to handle the enormous task of medical reform over the long haul if we do not want to see a repeat of this year’s fumbles. Learning lessons from past mistakes is a short cut to a safer future. JoongAng Ilbo, July 29, Page 30

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