It certainly feels good to hear the government announcing that Korea is free from the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak that had kept the whole nation fretting for two months.
Needless to say, it would have been better had authorities dealt with the contagious disease promptly in its initial stage, but it still is fortunate that we could stop the deadly virus after minimizing its impact.
The nation lost so much in its fight with the outbreak. A total of 186 people were hit by the disease, with 36 of them -- although most of them had chronic illnesses and were in their advanced ages -- having lost their lives. But the fact that its fatality rate in Korea was contained at 19.4 percent, compared with the 36 percent average in other countries, should not undercut the fear and anxiety Koreans had to endure since the first patient was diagnosed in May.
Like our contemporaries elsewhere, Koreans have sometimes faced threats of viral diseases like SARS, bird flu and swine flu -- there is the danger of Hong Kong flu even at the time of this writing -- but never was there the kind of panic we witnessed over the past two months.
It was bad to see people casting suspicious eyes at those merely coughing or sneezing and avoiding even shaking hands with friends. In short, the fear of the infectious disease altered people’s lifestyle and social life.
In addition, the nation’s international reputation and the economy slumped. The tourism sector, retail industries and leisure businesses had been hit hardest. It is estimated that the MERS outbreak would shed the economic growth rate by 0.2 to 0.3 percentage point.
Given all these and other consequences, the MERS outbreak should offer us precious lessons that, if not properly contained, a deadly virus can have an unprecedented impact on the nation and our daily life.
Now all the masks are gone and likewise we all should get back to our normal life. What we should do from now on is to find out what went wrong with our response to the epidemic and who are responsible as well as upgrade the nation’s health care system regarding contagious diseases.