S. Korea passes new law to curb MERS out­break

The China Post - - LIFE - BY PARK CHAN- KY­ONG

South Korea has in­tro­duced a new law de­signed to curb a MERS out­break, tight­en­ing quar­an­tine re­stric­tions and im­pos­ing jail sen­tences on those who defy anti-in­fec­tion mea­sures in a cri­sis that has now left 31 dead.

Un­der the new law, passed in par­lia­ment late Thurs­day, peo­ple in­fected with the virus who lie to state in­ves­ti­ga­tors about how they came into con­tact with the dis­ease will face a fine or a prison sen­tence.

“False tes­ti­mony would en­tail up two years in prison or 20 mil­lion won (US$18,000) in fines,” said the Health Min­istry about the new law.

It re­places the max­i­mum 2-mil­lion-won fine that could be meted out to any­one who did not tell the truth un­der pre­vi­ous leg­is­la­tion.

“In­ter­vie­wees will (now) feel com­pelled to pro­vide hon­est an­swers,” the min­istry said in a press state­ment.

The new law

also strength­ens of­fi­cials’ power to re­strict the move­ment of in­fected peo­ple and close con­tam­i­nated fa­cil­i­ties, with of­fend­ers who refuse to fol­low their or­ders also fac­ing two years in prison or an US$18,000 fine.

The num­ber of state health work­ers in charge of pre­vent­ing out­breaks and trac­ing them will also be dou­bled to more than 60.

The leg­is­la­tion comes as South Korea’s gov­ern­ment is fac­ing crit­i­cism for fail­ing to stop the MERS out­break, which has now be­come the largest out­side Saudi Ara­bia.

Crit­ics say the lack of co­or­di­nated con­trol among health author­i­ties, hos­pi­tals and lo­cal gov­ern­ments, com­bined with an in­ad­e­quate num­ber of quar­an­tine ex­perts and short­falls in ex­per­tise, are re­spon­si­ble for the fail­ure to stem the virus in the ini­tial stage of the out­break.

Author­i­ties Un­der Fire

Health author­i­ties also came un­der fire for with­hold­ing the names of health fa­cil­i­ties where the virus has been traced to, let­ting in­fected peo­ple go “doc­tor shop­ping” — vis­it­ing dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals to ob­tain sec­ond or third opin­ions, fur­ther­ing the spread o the dis­ease.

The coun­try on Thurs­day an­nounced a US$14 bil­lion stim­u­lus pack­age to boost the econ­omy as the out­break fur­ther damp­ened the al­ready sag­ging econ­omy, scar­ing away tourists and forc­ing con­sumers to stay home.

The fi­nance min­istry slashed its growth forecast for this year to 3.1 per­cent from an ear­lier pro­jec­tion of 3.8 per­cent.

The min­istry said the MERS out­break could pare up to 0.3 per­cent­age points off an­nual eco­nomic growth.

Two new fa­tal­i­ties were re­ported on Fri­day, the health min­istry said — both women, aged 79 and 80, who had ex­ist­ing health con­di­tions.

A doc­tor at Seoul’s Sam­sung Med­i­cal Cen­ter, the hos­pi­tal to which nearly half of all in­fec­tions have been traced, was also con- firmed to have con­tracted the dis­ease.

The hos­pi­tal ear­lier this week de­cided to ex­tend in­def­i­nitely a 12-day sus­pen­sion of nor­mal ser­vices as pa­tients, doc­tors and visi­tors con­tin­ued to be di­ag­nosed with the dis­ease.

One pa­tient, a 55-year-old am­bu­lance driver at the Sam­sung hos­pi­tal, con­tin­ued to go to work via sub­way for days af­ter de­vel­op­ing symp­toms in early June, com­ing into con­tact with nearly 500 peo­ple.

The latest fa­tal­i­ties brought the to­tal death toll to 31, the health min­istry said, with 181 peo­ple di­ag­nosed with the deadly virus since the first case emerged on May 20.

Of those di­ag­nosed, aside from the de­ceased, 81 have re­cov­ered and 69 are still be­ing treated, in­clud­ing 13 listed in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

Cur­rently, a to­tal of 2,931 peo­ple are in iso­la­tion, in­clud­ing 759 in hos­pi­tal and 2,172 at their homes.

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