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Parties to form special MERS committee

South Korea’s main parties agreed Sunday to make bipartisan efforts to contain the Middle East respiratory syndrome and assuage mounting public fear.

The governing Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy agreed to create a special parliamentary committee to slow the MERS crisis and prevent potential outbreaks of other infectious diseases.

They also decided to pass relevant laws in an upcoming parliamentary session while urging the government to consider raising the MERS alert level and to better communicate with local municipalities and relevant ministries.

The move came as part of lawmakers’ efforts to prioritize the outbreak during the June parliamentary session which had been widely expected to become a battlefield over the new prime minister nomination and a controversial new legislative law.

“At a time of national emergency, the ruling and opposition party should join hands to dissolve the public fear and overcome the crisis,” said Saenuri chairman Kim Moo-sung.

NPAD leader Moon Jae-in also voiced his support and said the meeting was productive. “Now we are able to relay information between the central government and local municipalities in real time. And we agreed to do the information sharing quickly and accurately. It is a huge step forward,” said Moon.

NPAD had demanded the government publicize relevant MERS information to the public and share it with local authorities. The government, on the same day, disclosed the names of six hospitals with confirmed MERS cases and 18 others that MERS patients had visited.

Rival parties also agreed to pass MERS-related laws in the June parliamentary session. The laws are designed to beef up measures for quarantine, refine the government’s manuals for an outbreak of diseases and formulate aid programs to the victims, according to a statement released after the meeting.

They also decided to provide assistance to the MERS patients and medical workers. They will give financial aid to the patients and provide medical workers with technical assistance, such as giving to them masks and other protective gear and medical equipment.

Despite commendable bipartisan agreement, rival parties have continued to quarrel over the new legislative law that empowers lawmakers to demand an amendment of government decrees.

The Saenuri chief reportedly raised the issue during the meeting. He asserted that the law does not have a mandatory clause to force the government to review its decrees, but the NPAD rejected his argument.

Meanwhile, the NPAD demanded the Saenuri Party postpone the scheduled parliamentary hearing of Prime Minister-designate Hwang Kyo-ahn, saying that the nominee had failed to submit relevant documents for the hearing. Saenuri Party, however, rejected the request immediately.

By Yeo Jun-suk  (