July 29, 2015 12:31
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn on Tuesday declared the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak officially over and assured the public that it can now be free of fears. The announcement came 69 days after the outbreak began on May 20.
MERS took 36 lives, infected 186 people and led to 6,729 being placed in quarantine in hospitals or at home. The outbreak exposed embarrassing cracks in the government's response system to epidemics as well as Korea’s risky hospital culture, especially the lax handling of visitors.
The government and medical personnel must take a close look at what went wrong and ensure these mistakes are not repeated.
Korea also needs large hospitals specializing in epidemics. To handle major epidemics effectively, they must have ample space to treat infected patients as well as those who came into contact with them.
Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore all have such facilities. But Korea lacks even proper pressured isolation rooms that are crucial in treating infectious diseases, so MERS patients had to be shuttled from one hospital to another.
Lawmakers did not allocate the money needed for such hospitals in the supplementary budget they passed a few days ago. They wanted to include a clause in a special law to deal more effectively with epidemics that would mandate the establishment of such facilities, but the move was scrapped due to government squabbling.
Various ministries are trying to turn the plan into a pet project and are squabbling over who gets to run these hospitals. That is irresponsible. The government had better resolve this issue fast to fix its damaged reputation and credibility.
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