New autonomy for Korean disease control center

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New autonomy for Korean disease control center

In the wake of the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), the government announced reforms for the national quarantine system to better combat new infectious diseases.

MERS, first confirmed in Korea on May 20, infected 186 people and killed 36 of them up until the government announced the end of the outbreak at the end of July.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn on Tuesday presided over a national policy adjustment meeting with other ministers and approved the government’s reform plan for its quarantine system.

“The government did go through some trial and error in the recent MERS outbreak, but we also learned priceless lessons,” Hwang said.

The new measures center on the appointment of a deputy-ministerial official to head the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), instead of the current director-level official. That will give the KCDC more autonomy.

Under the new system, the KCDC will take charge of quarantine measures on its own and the Prime Minister’s Office; Ministry of Health and Welfare; and Ministry of Public Safety and Security will support its measures.

However, the KCDC remains under the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and it has been suggested that it be given complete independence to strengthen its role.

The KCDC will also establish a 24-hour emergency situation office to collect information, monitor situations and command and control quarantine operations.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare sent its staffers to their KCDC counterparts in the United States and China to analyze their situation office. The U.S. CDC has operated an Emergency Operations Center since the anthrax terror attacks in 2001, and China’s CDC has run an Office for Disease Control and Emergency Response since the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002.

The KCDC plans to establish a risk communication team to disclose infectious disease information as soon as possible, part of a response to criticisms that it made the MERS outbreak worse when it failed to publicly disclose the names of the hospitals visited by possible MERS patients.

It also plans to recruit more epidemiological investigators.

BY KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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