Health and Welfare Minister Moon Hyung-pyo on Monday anticipated the Middle East respiratory syndrome would begin to abate in two days, hoping to bring the nation back on track following the outbreak that has left six people killed and 87 under quarantine so far.
“I hope we will see (MERS) start to abate starting Wednesday,” said Moon. “If I may offer cautious predictions, (MERS) hit its peak today. We will do our utmost to reassure the public and prevent the disease from further spreading” said Moon.
His remarks came as he was grilled by lawmakers at a parliamentary hearing over the authorities’ failure to address the MERS outbreak. Lawmakers from the governing Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy criticized the government for failing to contain the spread of MERS and public fears by withholding relevant information.
“The government didn’t come forward,” said Rep. Park In-sook of the Saenuri Party. “The government lost its window of opportunity to address the outbreak at an early stage. It simply put out the name of hospitals. I think the government has been irresponsible.”
Authorities released Sunday the names of hospitals with confirmed MERS cases and other hospitals where infected patients had visited. The release came about two weeks after the first case was confirmed.
The parliamentary members also criticized the government for the lack of coordinated and comprehensive responses to the outbreak.
“I felt disappointed,” said Rep. Rhee Mok-hee of NPAD. “I believe the government officials, all the way to the ministers and the president, lack respect and empathy toward the people.”
Some lawmakers even called for the health minister to resign from his post. “Moon should resign as he is not a public health expert,” said Jun Byung-hun of NPAD. “I am not sure whether he fully acknowledges the fact that he is nothing but an obstacle during the crisis.”
Moon apologized for the government response and vowed to lay out measures to address MERS. He admitted the government’s lack of efforts to ensure public health and promised to give the public specific measures, such as building MERS-dedicated hospitals and medical centers for national disaster.
He also hinted at raising the alert level from “watch” to “warning.” The ministry has maintained “watch” level since the first case was confirmed. Lawmakers have urged the government to consider raising the level.
“If necessary, we will go ahead and raise the level. In the meantime, we will stay vigilant. Even though we are at the ‘watch’ level, what we are doing is virtually the same as what we would do at the ‘warning’ level,” he said.
“If we jumped to the warning level immediately, it would hurt the national image,” replied Moon when he was questioned about the delay in raising the level right now.
By Yeo Jun-suk (email@example.com)