[ed] Belated MERS steps

Government finally discloses information, vows stricter measures

The government on Sunday finally revealed a list of 24 hospitals whereMiddle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) patients have been diagnosed or had been treated.

The move is far too late mdash the public panic is at a high and people are questioning the government’s compentence mdash but acutely necessary. Previous fights against outbreaks have proven that it is necessary to not only battle the virus but deal effectively with people. Seoul’s streets were eerily empty over the weekend as people stayed home amid growing anxiety about the rising number of MERS cases. Festivals, concerts and major events have been cancelled and some schools have closed.

Acting Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan said the disclosure was to “ensure people’s safety. ” But one question the authorities must answer is why the government waited nearly 20 days after the first MERS patient was discovered to disclose the list of the hospitals.

Choi said the government would impose strict control on the hospitals, strengthen monitoring of suspected patients quarantined in their homes mdash including possible tracking of their locations using mobile phones mdash and stepping up cooperation with regional governments. Experts have aised stricter quarantine and adherence to precautions, so we hope the government mobilizes the resources necessary to carry out what it has pledged. The public also should do its utmost to abide by the cumbersome measures.

The acting prime minister ruled out possible transmission in the community. But the discovery of a growing number of patients from a general hospital in Seoul is a disconcerting development thatthe authorities should promptly contain to ensure public health.

Despite criticism over the government’s initial response, Choi strongly asked the public to “believe in the government” in its efforts to fight MERS. The slowness of the central government also prompted independent moves from regional governments, which may well have pressured the central government to move. But the fight against MERS in the ensuing days should be conducted under firm central leadership, even as local and regional governments cooperate.

Admittedly, not much is known about MERS, which comes from the same virus family as the common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). But Korea successfully responded to the 2003 SARS pandemic and the 2009 flu pandemic, and we hope these lessons will be heeded.

The government said it would work fully with the visiting team from the World Health Organization starting this week. Such international collaboration can lead to discovery of how to slow the disease and ultimately develop drugs to treat it.

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