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Park strives to calm MERS woes

By Korea Herald

Published : June 16, 2015 - 20:30

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President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday continued her visits to areas affected by Middle East respiratory syndrome to calm public outrage over the government’s response to the outbreak of the virus.

Park has suffered falling approval ratings, despite her attempts to emphasize her prioritization of public health by canceling a trip to the U.S.

The president visited an elementary school in southern Seoul and a middle school in northwestern Seoul, which both resumed classes after a weeklong shutdown over the deadly MERS virus.

Her visit was the fifth and latest in a series of public activities aimed at calming the public’s escalating fears over the disease that killed 19 as of Tuesday afternoon.

President Park Geun-hye visits an elementary school in Seoul on Tuesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald) President Park Geun-hye visits an elementary school in Seoul on Tuesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

At schools, Park watched students washing their hands to help them learn how to prevent the infection of the virus.

She also told students not to fear MERS, and that the virus can be prevented by following simple steps such as regular hand washing.

“If you can follow those healthy habits, you don’t have to fear things like MERS,” she told them.

The president also held a separate meeting with parents and teachers to ask them to strengthen disinfection measures at schools.

Before her visit to the schools, the president also met doctors and medical staff at state-run hospitals in Seoul who were designated to treat MERS-confirmed patients and civil servants at an emergency control center run by Gyeonggi Provincial Government.

On Sunday, Park visited a fashion market in Dongdaemun, Seoul, to encourage merchants suffering hard from a drop in sales caused by the widespread MERS fears.

Despite such efforts, critics said Park was failing to persuade the public.

“From my point of view, I think the president ... could offer a message to the families of the deceased and those in critical condition, such as by sending a word of prayer, and soothing the hardship faced by the people,” said professor Lee Sang-don of Chung-Ang University in a radio interview.

Some critics also argued that Cheong Wa Dae has repeatedly made inappropriate “praises” over Park’s public appearances at a time of nationwide emergency, such as by highlighting that the president was receiving an enthusiastic welcome by citizens whom she encountered.

In a daily briefing, an official said her security team was having trouble protecting her from cheering crowds wanting to get close to her at public sites.

Drawing a stark contrast with the presidential office’s description of her popularity, Park’s approval rating saw a sharp decline from 40.3 percent to 34.6 percent last week, at the lowest ebb in four months, according to Realmeter, a local pollster.

The percentage of respondents who disapproved of her state management, however, surged 7.5 percentage points to 60.8 percent, it added.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)