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Lawmakers chide government over poor countermeasures

Korea’s main political parties demanded Thursday the government step up efforts to cope with the spreading Middle East respiratory syndrome amid growing public fears over the virus.

The governing Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy urged Cheong Wa Dae to take the initiative and consolidate administrative efforts to prevent MERS and contain public fears. The disease has left two confirmed deaths and 1,364 people have been quarantined since the first case was confirmed on May 20.

“There is a lack of communication on what type of disease we are dealing with, how it is being transmitted, and how we can prevent and treat it,” said Saenuri Party leader Rep. Kim Moo-sung during an emergency roundtable on MERS with experts.

“Due to vague fears, people are overreacting, and with such anxiety, rumors are spreading across the country making the people even more anxious,” he said.

In a separate meeting, Kim said that the initial response to MERS was poorly done but that it was also important to trust the government and cooperate.

The remark came a day after Cheong Wa Dae rejected the party’s request for a meeting to discuss the MERS outbreak. The party had asked the presidential office to coordinate legislative and executive actions plans. The office refused to hold the meeting, saying it would not help solve the outbreak.

President Park Geun-hye, instead, held an emergency meeting Wednesday and decided to create a task force of nongovernmental experts. She vowed to work across agencies to follow the disease’s trajectory and analyze the cause of the disease.

The NPAD, meanwhile, criticized Cheong Wa Dae for refusing to communicate, saying that Park failed to acknowledge the significance of the situation. The NPAD urged Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling party to set aside their conflicts and seek partisan cooperation amid the MERS crisis.

“My concern is the president hasn’t realized how significant the crisis is,” said NPAD floor leader Rep. Lee Jong-kul on Thursday.

“President Park attended the emergency countermeasures meeting for the first time in 13 days after the first patient was confirmed yesterday. It is regretful ... that her orders (at the meeting) to stop the spread and notify the public of preventive measures appear to show that (Park) is still not in sync with the level of crisis right now and far distant from the crisis felt among the people,” he added.

Lee also urged the ruling party and Cheong Wa Dae to overlook their differences for the time being to work together in fending off MERS.

By Yeo Jun-suk (