Med­i­cal doc­tor named new S. Korea health min­is­ter


South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Ge­un­hye on Tues­day af­ter­noon sacked Health Min­is­ter Moon Hyung-pyo and named med­i­cal pro­fes­sional Chung Chin-youb to re­place him, ap­par­ently to move on from the Mid­dle East res­pi­ra­tory syn­drome (MERS) out­break and seek new mo­men­tum for her re­form drive.

Park also re­placed her se­nior sec­re­tary of wel­fare, over­haul­ing the health care team largely crit­i­cized for lax man­age­ment of the un­prece­dented MERS spread ear­lier this sum­mer.

Chung, 60, an ortho­pe­dics pro­fes­sor at Seoul Na­tional Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal, will be sub­jected to a par­lia­men­tary hear­ing, but does not re­quire the leg­is­la­ture’s endorsement.

Park’s new se­nior aide on la­bor and wel­fare will be Rep. Kim Hyun-sook of the rul­ing Saenuri Party, an eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor-turned-politi­cian.

“Nom­i­nee Chung is the right per­son to strengthen the na­tion’s public med­i­cal sec­tor, and to bring sta­bil­ity to public health as he holds a deep un­der­stand­ing and in­sights on Korea’s over­all med­i­cal sec­tor through his 25 years’ ser­vice at Seoul Na­tional Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal,” said pres­i­den­tial spokesman Min Kyung-wook.

The new se­nior sec­re­tary has also demon­strated her ex­per­tise in the fields of wel­fare and women poli­cies while serv­ing as a re­search fel­low at Korea In­sti­tute of Public Fi­nance, and teach­ing at Soongsil Univer­sity in Seoul, Min said.

Park’s nom­i­na­tion of a med­i­cal pro­fes­sor for the na­tion’s top post in charge of health and wel­fare came amid per­sis­tent public dis­trust due to the gov­ern­ment’s bun­gled ini­tial re­sponse to MERS. Last week, the coun­try de­clared a de facto end to the out­break that killed 36.

Calls had been mount­ing for Park to apol­o­gize and to re­place in­cum­bent Moon, a for­mer scholar on pen­sion sys­tem, say­ing he lacked lead­er­ship while deal­ing with the virus spread.

The gov­ern­ment has been un­der fire for con­ceal­ing in­for­ma­tion of MERSin­fected pa­tients and the hos­pi­tals where they were ad­mit­ted and treated. The health min­istry had re­jected calls to dis­close names of MERS-hit hospi- tals, stress­ing that it would par­a­lyze the na­tion’s med­i­cal sec­tor.

Author­i­ties later re­vealed the names and routes pa­tients trav­eled. But its be­lated rev­e­la­tion sparked public anger, with many blam­ing the gov­ern­ment’s slow re­sponse for ag­gra­vat­ing the spread of the dis­ease.

Min also said that the pres­i­dent will de­liver a public ad­dress on Thurs­day to present her vi­sion on state af­fairs.

It was not im­me­di­ately known whether Park will apol­o­gize to the public for the gov­ern­ment’s slow ini­tial re­sponse.

Cheong Wa-dae had ad­mit­ted last month that the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the out­break was “in­suf­fi­cient,” but no of­fi­cial apol­ogy has been made so far.

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