What do you think about the government’s handling of MERS?

Han Sae-byeol (Male/ 25/ Student)

When I first heard about MERS, I did not care much about it. I thought it was a kind of flu that is a little bit more serious than the common cold. But it became the biggest catastrophe of South Korea nowadays. It was so fast, almost less than one month that MERS spread through the whole country. Then I realized it was a very serious matter that I needed to care and worry about.

Of course, it was my carelessness that made me so dull to the most dangerous problem. But it was not only me who underestimated the problem of MERS. The South Korean government, including President Park, has been telling people to let the situation settle itself and calm down, saying it is no big deal at a time when people who got the virus were dying from it. Even if it is only deadly to old and weak people, it is still a huge threat to social immunity.

Without people having a healthy social immune system, the disease can easily spread through the population, and eventually to the people who are vulnerable to the disease, like the elderly and babies. Unlike the time we prevented SARS from spreading, we missed the golden time and opportunity to prevent the disease from spreading.

I do not know how to manage this problem, but I know the government is responsible for this chaos, and they have to solve this problem to keep people safe from the disease, not thinking about tourism and money so much.

Kim Eun-Jeong (Female/ 32/ Nutritionist)

One of my friends is a nurse working at a hospital in Boseong, where South Jeolla’s first MERS patient was confirmed. Fortunately, the patient fully recovered and people who were directly or indirectly in contact showed no symptoms and could be removed from isolation. Thank goodness.

I think highly of my friend’s efforts and commitment, as well as those of her colleagues. I wanted to hear how things happened in Boseong, but she was really afraid of leaking information and did not say much. However, she carefully pointed out a few mistakes that the government has made.

They were too reluctant to disclose specific information to the public in the dilemma between personal information protection and public interest. And their earliest responses to MERS were improper, in that they easily concluded the transmission paths of MERS would be similar to those in the Middle East.

No one can predict how the new epidemic would spread. The health authorities might have followed the existing instructions because of restricted financial resources. However, when it comes to preemptive measures, health authorities always have to think of the worst case scenarios.

Lee Ji-yeon (Female/ 27/ Middle School Teacher)

I do not know whether MERS is a critical disease or not. As far as I know no one around me was infected by MERS, which is very fortunate. The local government did their job very well. Thanks to them, I could go about my daily routine.

But I cannot deny that the disease has strongly influenced Korean society and economics in undesirable ways. After the outbreak of MERS, people lost faith in the [federal] government. They saw how the government acted when faced with a crisis.

The government tried to hide information, which only promoted the spreading of rumors. They boasted their achievements over broadcasting systems, even before taking any proper actions, and they even blamed a few citizens for their lack of sensibility, who turned out to be innocent.

The whole situation worried people so much that they avoided social activities, and it hurt the Korean economy so deeply. As fears over MERS escalated, the number of customers visiting tourist attractions, shopping centers and other local retailers sharply decreased.

The government’s inept response to MERS also had a negative impact on households. Even my father lost his job due to the financial damages the outbreak of MERS has caused. Even though my brother and I are working, our family still needs his financial support, because my youngest sister just entered university this year.

It is difficult for a middle-aged man like my father to go through this situation, because companies are reluctant to employ older men. The government should have known how their response would affect families. I wish they could have realized what they have done to my father and his company, in order to not make the same mistakes again.

Lee Da-eun (Female/ 22/ Student)
More than 30 people have died because of MERS. It is a big problem because it impacts the nation’s economy and image. The number of tourists visiting Korea has been falling. So, I think MERS is a fatal contagious disease, like the Black Death.

The initial reaction was not good. The Korean government did not inform the public about hospitals that were the route of infection. I cannot understand the government’s attitude. However, closing schools for some time was great.

Still, the health authorities revealed a big hole in MERS handling, so the Korean government must increase presidential trustworthy from now on.

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