7th Meeting on MERS
Venue: Seoul City Hall
On June 5 of last year, we defined our attitude dealing with this MERS emergency as a “quasi-state of war,” and we have been doing our best to protect the lives and safety of the 10 million citizens of Seoul. For the last week, all the staff in the Seoul Metropolitan Government has been fiercely working to control the situation. We have done everything we can to solve this issue.
Sadly, last night we learned of four more confirmed cases, increasing the accumulated number of confirmed cases to 126 in total. I read a news article titled “Daughters’ Tears, Impossible to Stay with Her Mom (June 11, The Hankyoreh).” Her mother had been hospitalized because of cerebral infraction but became infected with MERS. The daughter’s husband had visited his mother in-law in the hospital and became infected with MERS as well. The daughter was confined in another room and is prohibited from going outside. Her two sons are undergoing home confinement. Seeing the tears of the daughter and her mother and the unwanted separation in loving family members, I was heartbroken and felt a grave sense of responsibility.
We have more sad news about an infected pregnant woman. She must be fighting against the MERS virus alone in the hospital room, and thinking of her makes my heart break yet again. I would like to open today’s morning with a commitment and determination that we will continue to work tirelessly to make Seoul safe against MERS.
We are waging a war against MERS. In a war, you must be clear about who the enemy is, and also the people for whom you must fight. Now, not only MERS, but also and overgrown agitation and fear are our grave enemies to fight against. We are fighting for the life and safety of our citizens. I think that the central government, local governments, and the private sector all should join forces together to win this battle. In conducting this war, we should neither be too much optimistic nor too fearful.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government is taking the strongest measures by shutting down Mediheal Hospital, conducting epidemiological investigations, and performing total inspections to fight against MERS, since it is spreading around hospitals. We have raised the speed and intensity of measures dealing with MERS to the highest level, while maintaining citizens’ lives safely. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is continually employing a two-track strategy.
That is why we have decided to proceed with the civil service examination. We had a great number of discussions with experts, as we had many concerns. We also listen to a lot of opinions from citizens.
As a result, we have come to the conclusion that taking the examination in the middle of the MERS outbreak is safe enough. First and foremost, there are so many young people who have studied hard despite the hardships they are facing now. Those young people have been studying and working due to difficult financial conditions. We should not take away their plans and dreams. I strongly believe that I have to protect those precious dreams of 130,000 young people with a bright future. Helping to protect and grow their dreams is also part of my job as Seoul Mayor. The principle of the Seoul Metropolitan Government is that the government should do its best, taking their difficulties into account so that all bright young people can get the chance they deserve.
In order for all candidates to take the tests safely, we are preparing every necessary step. We are committed to providing the best and safest environment for them to take the test, so that all students can show their ability to the fullest. We will do everything we can to contain the virus. Even during the H1N1 virus epidemic in November 2009, 168,000 students were able to apply for and take the Korean SAT test, so we are equipped with the experience and knowhow to deal with hard times such as these. On November 11, 2009, the warning level was increased to serious, and the next day was the College Scholastic Ability Test.
As part of tight measures, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is planning to prepare three types of testing rooms by taking into account all students’ circumstances: general testing rooms, confinement rooms, and house confinement rooms. Of those undergoing home confinement, 2 students are expected to take the test in home confinement rooms. Some have said that they are given special treatment; however, this is a misunderstanding. Physically challenged people are given a similar consideration, and this is a measure to guarantee the right to hold a public office for those people undergoing house confinement.
The Administration on Governing the People says that if the people are undergoing a disaster and misfortune, government officers should save those on fire or drawing in water as quickly as possible, as if the government officers themselves are saving them, and never slow down that rescue work. This was in Chapter 6: Love the People, in the Administration on Governing the People. This book emphasizes that public officers should save the people in trouble quickly and immediately. I have read opinions criticizing those people who will take tests in home confinement rooms, and I think those who are given home confinement rooms are the same people like any others who have been doing their best to pass the exams. They did not intend to contract MERS, and it was only their own misfortune that they happened to contact those who had MERS. They have to undergo home confinement and they are taking many difficulties for the sake of themselves, their families, and our citizens. Do you not think it is unfair if they are not given a chance to take the test simply because they are categorized as home confinement?
Recently, I dismissed a manager who used to work for the Seoul Medical Center immediately after I learned that he had sent a text message saying that they would not allow patients with the MERS virus. Turning one’s back on those in need is intolerable as a public officer. When it comes to public officer capability, consideration and a big heart is more important than expertise and ability. We need to have an etiquette based on a sense of community with other human beings. That is what I always tell my fellow staff. All the staff in the Seoul Metropolitan Government and I are responding to this MERS issue with the mindset that all citizens are our family. This afternoon, we will work hard with those in the medical community to tackle MERS.
At City Hall, managers from 20 hospitals will be participating in a joint emergency meeting of the public and private sectors, including 7 private hospitals. Private enterprises are actively participating in tackling MERS. Today Yuhan-Kimberly is scheduled to donate 20,000 single-use masks for senior citizens in the Korean Senior Citizens Association of Seoul Branch.
Yesterday, we started to use the Seoul Human Resource as a confinement facility, inviting 2 people. It can house up to 30. In order for citizens to minimize difficulties and focus on their lives, we launched the Citizen-Help Desk, consisting of 27 staff from 5 teams, over the last two days. We will resolve all civil complaints related to MERS.
Once again, I would like to emphasize that all the staff in the Seoul Metropolitan Government and I are doing our best to get you back to your peaceful lives again.
Of course we should be careful about MERS; however, we should not be overwhelmed. If you do your work as usual peacefully, all the staff in the Seoul Metropolitan Government and I will eradicate MERS.
I would like to talk to all my fellow public officers. You must be fully aware that in waging the war against MERS we have not set any strategy or retreat. Not one single citizen should be sick and lose their life. Until every single citizen becomes free from insecurity and fear, and gains safety and happiness in their lives, our roles and responsibility never end. Let’s overcome this crisis together. Let’s move forward for the citizen’s lives and happiness. Thank you.