Close consultation is essentialAn emergency meeting on Sunday to address the first case of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in Korea in more than three years was streamed live on Facebook. Seoul mayor Park Won-soon and 20 city officials publicly discussed the case of a 61-year-old man who reported on his symptoms as soon as he returned from a visit to Kuwait even as the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) was still investigating the case. But the Ministry of Health and Welfare complained that the Seoul city government released the information without prior consultation with the central authorities.
The key to preventing an epidemic is quarantine. Controlling the outbreak in 2015 was difficult because potentially infected people did not fully cooperate with quarantine due to privacy issues and the hassle of house arrest. The releasing of information and the rules for isolation must follow strict guidelines from the central authority. Health authorities in other countries do not make some information public in order to not trigger an unnecessary scare.
The Seoul mayor said that the MERS outbreak three years ago should be a lesson that overreaction and preemptive actions are better than responding late in combating infectious diseases. But Park’s overreaction went too far this time. In a press conference soon after the outbreak in 2015, Park revealed that a doctor at the Samsung Medical Center had attended a large assembly to discuss a redevelopment plan even though he allegedly had symptoms of MERS. The allegation led to the quarantine of 1,600 people who had been at the conference.
The doctor later demanded Park apologize for spreading misinformation as he had attended the meeting before he showed any symptoms. No one was infected because of the doctor. Park faced a prosecutorial investigation over the case and belatedly apologized to the doctor. The Health Ministry said it was confounded by a solo act from Park, who should not be out of tune with the government from the same ruling party. Seoul must act in close consultation with health authorities regarding any infectious disease cases.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 11, Page 30