Park Geun-hye administration blasted for MERS response

Park Geun-hye administration blasted for MERS response
Students wearing face masks stand wait to cross a street in Seoul on June 3, 2015. More than 200 primary schools shut down as South Korea struggled to contain an outbreak of the MERS virus that has infected 30, killed two and triggered widespread fear.

The Park Geun-hye administration is drawing flak for its poor response to the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak, despite rising public concerns of the surging number of confirmed or suspected patients.

With public criticism mounting, the president held an emergency meeting with ministers and medical experts for the first time Wednesday to seek measures to contain the MERS virus that had killed two and infected 30 as of Wednesday afternoon.

The president said she would form a task force team after the meeting to identify the starting point of the virus and the route of the infection. The government would disclose the findings to dissolve public fears, she said.

Despite Cheong Wa Dae's efforts to curb the growing fears, grumbling that the nation's top office has been sitting back and ignoring the severity of the situation has been escalating.

Earlier in the day, both major political parties blasted authorities for failing to block the deadly virus in the early stages and causing public panic by lackadaisically handling the crisis.

The main opposition party leader slammed the Health Ministry saying it has already lost public trust for its "incompetent response," and also demanded Park's office to directly take charge of the response measures.

"The president should handle the matter herself and have Cheong Wa Dae take the role of a control tower," said New Politics Alliance for Democracy chairman Rep. Moon Jae-in.

He also urged the government to form a pan-governmental organisation to effectively contain the virus and take necessary measures to reassure the public.

NPAD floor leader Rep. Lee Jong-kul also attacked Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo, holding him responsible for worsening the situation.

"The crisis appears to have worsened partly because the health minister and vice minister are not experts on medical and public health," he said. "The government needs to take countermeasures by listening to health experts and organisations before it becomes too late."

The minister is a former scholar on pension systems.

The opposition floor leader also claimed that the government is poorly handling the matter like it did with the sinking of the Sewol ferry that killed more than 300 passengers last year.

"The government shows no willingness to take charge of the crisis like how it was with the Sewol crisis. It still looks confused," he said, referring to vast criticism the government faced for failing to save most of the passengers with belated rescue operations.

The ruling Saenuri Party also stepped up criticism of the government's botched MERS response and urged the government to proclaim a state of emergency in order to take every possible measure to contain the virus.

"The party, the government and the presidential office together need to declare a state of emergency over the MERS crisis and concentrate all efforts to resolve the matter," said Saenuri floor leader Rep. Yoo Seung-min.

He also demanded the government consider disclosing relevant information on the disease to dispel public anxiety on the virus.

The Health Ministry has been rejecting calls to share the names of medical hospitals where confirmed MERS patients either stayed or visited, despite strong public demand.

The ministry said it would, instead, start releasing the list of all suspected and confirmed patients only to hospitals and health care workers in the country on Wednesday.

Rumours have been swirling on social media in South Korea that the authorities have already failed to place a number of patients suspected of the disease under quarantine, allowing them to move around the country.

Hundreds of schools and kindergartens across the country have decided to suspend classes, many at the request of parents concerned about the health of their children.

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that more than 1,300 people are being monitored for possible infection.

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