Acting PM fills in Park’s lack of leadership

By: Do Je-hae

Acting Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan is leading the government’s response to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) 20 days after the first case was reported here.

He has cancelled most of his schedule and is now based in the administrative capital of Sejong giving news conferences and making visits to encourage civil servants, medical staff and patients.

Although Choi, who is also finance minister, was initially criticized for being out of the country when the outbreak occurred, he is now compensating for what is seen as a lack of leadership from his boss, President Park Geun-hye.

Cheong Wa Dae is running a task force for MERS, but Choi is leading a daily intra-governmental meeting to oversee measures to contain the disease.

“It is a bit late, but Choi is doing a good job as control tower,” said Chung Goon-gi, professor of Hongik University.

“Although he seemed to have an idle view of the situation at first, his national address was very timely.”

Experts say that with an acting prime minister taking charge, there will be less confusion for the public.

“At first the government response system seemed to be divided on pressing issues, like closing schools. The health and education authorities didn’t seem to be in sync,” Choi Young-il, said a political analyst. “Now that the Prime Minister’s Office is taking charge, the people will be expecting a more consistent action from the authorities.”

During a meeting of economy-related ministers in Sejong, Wednesday, Choi announced a series of measures to curb the outbreak by the end of the week and provide aid to those affected by the disease.

“We will spare no effort in providing financial and material assistance to those that need it,” Choi said.

He explained that close cooperation is under way with the World Health Organization to tackle the outbreak and to provide precise and transparent information about the illness to ease widespread panic among Koreans.

“The government asks that people do not hold exaggerated fears or concerns over MERS, and that they do not act based on such groundless fears, such as reducing their spending or avoiding visits to areas that have reported confirmed cases of MERS,” he said.


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