Ruling party pledges to empower the KCDC

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Ruling party pledges to empower the KCDC

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) is set to unveil a series of campaign promises addressing public concern over the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, which includes plans to build a government institute to study infectious diseases and transforming the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) into an independent agency.

According to key sources in the DP, these measures will be included in the party’s manifesto for the upcoming general elections in April.

The new research institute, sources say, will build upon data collected by the government throughout its responses to the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015 and the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, and will focus on the development of vaccines.

The ruling party reached a widespread consensus on the necessity of organizing the accumulated data on such diseases, with DP Chairman Lee Hae-chan last week publicly mentioning the necessity of a government-run institute to complement efforts by private organizations to study and combat harmful viruses.

“Vaccine research requires enormous professional personnel and astronomical investments, but the private market has few incentives to work on such projects when outbreaks are not occurring,” said one key member of the DP, who wished to remain anonymous. “Whether it is in the form of providing financial support or with the establishment of a research institute, the government must actively step in to take charge of such a field.”

The DP will additionally propose installations of special government-sponsored divisions in key health facilities across the country specifically dedicated to research and treat infectious diseases, sources say. Such divisions are to be implemented in three to five general hospitals in Seoul, Busan and the Jeolla region.

Another major plan is the elevation of the status and authority of the KCDC, the government organization in charge of current quarantine efforts against the Wuhan virus, which currently operates under the auspices of the Health Ministry.

Several experts have said that the KCDC should be separated from the ministry and bestowed with autonomous powers so that it can function more expeditiously in times of emergency.

In a rare show of bipartisan consensus amid concerns over the Wuhan coronavirus, lawmakers in both the DP and main opposition Liberty Korea Party support separating the KCDC into an administration-level government body, and have urged the Blue House to push for a change in the Government Organization Act to effectuate the separation.

BY JEONG JIN-WOO, SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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