Widespread “MERS Scare” An Overreaction?

From Liberalism: [June 5, 2015]

Doctors’ view on MERS

Last night, I went to a funeral of my medical school senior‘s mother. MERS was not even once mentioned during the doctors’ conversation. After I came home, my wife asked me if all those rumors about MERS in the neighborhood were true. Then she asked me to wash my hands since I was in a crowded place.

It seems the danger of MERS recognized by doctors and what the public feels about it are quite different. Why do doctors not take MERS so seriously? It is not that MERS is trivial. It is just that some diseases doctors deal with on a regular basis are much more dangerous and lethal.

Then how do we know what is more or less dangerous? By what standards?

Every year about 2,000 Koreans die from tuberculosis (TB) which is another infectious disease. It used to be 10,000 deaths per year in the past.

What about the drug-resistant super bacteria? It is estimated that several thousands die from it in hospitals every year. Unfortunately, there is not even accurate statistics about it yet. It is just assumed that more than half of 10,000 deaths caused by infection in hospitals are due to the super bacteria. It is a problem that cannot be tracked or controlled under the current medical conditions.

What about things like influenza that are caused by viruses just like MERS is? There is a big gap between the estimated number of deaths and the reported number of deaths caused by influenza. Every year 70 cases are reported, but according to the division of infectious diseases, 5~20% of the population is infected with influenza and 8% of them can result in death. They say 1,600 people die from influenza infection every year.

Four people have died from MERS in Korea so far (until 4 p.m. on June 5th). They already had a weak immune system. A woman in her 50s who suffered a respiratory disease for a long time and had a weak immune system due to steroid treatment. A 70-something person who had underlying diseases such as a chronic obstructive disease. It is sad that four people lost their lives, but MERS is not that scary compared to other diseases.

If you liken diseases to fire accidents, every day doctors fight injuries from big fires in apartments, factories, refineries etc. Meanwhile, it’s like the public is trembling in fear because of extremely few arson cases.

We need to distinguish real danger from perceived danger, which is exaggerated by fear, and can cause chaos in our society. At least there is something positive about the exaggerated MERS threats. Many people wear masks and when they cough, they are more careful now. They are also taking a look at their personal hygiene and wash their hands more often. This will lead to positive results, an infectious diseases will be better contained in general.

Comments from Liberalism:
Oh Chol Kwon

Scientists (doctors) speak using proven data while politicians speak to agitate the public.

Jeongju Lee

If you look at social media, it seems like the world has come to an end.

박은지

The society where you get called ‘irresponsible’ if you tell people not to be worried too much based on expertise and facts.

배대율

People like Seoul mayor Park Won-soon are creating more fear…

김동현

“Don’t trust experts. Trust me!”

백충현

The WHO said it is not a big deal. These f*cking uncivilized people.

Scott Lee

Huh? I was in a meeting with hospitals and doctors’ association members who are currently doctors. They said the opposite thing. Although MERS’ fatality rate isn’t scarily high, it is still not trivial at all. Its infection rate is very high and things are getting worse due to the poor measures from the health ministry and some ajumma’s fuckery. It is dangerous because there is no vaccine yet. Before the meeting, a nurse sterilized our hands and nails using alcohol. FYI, I work for a public company that helps medical industries with exports and international advancement.

Inyoung Chang [Responding to above]

If you cough, you should wear a mask. If you attend a meeting where many people gather, you should wash your hands well. We are supposed to do this regardless of MERS. It is desirable to have a good sense of personal hygiene all the time. I don’t think it is right to think we are in some emergency situation because some foreign disease was first introduced. We just need to be as careful as during the outbreak of the flu. The biggest fear comes from our messy disease control system. I am fearful of the officials who didn’t listen to the experts from the beginning to contain the disease effectively. New viruses will keep emerging and threatening us in the future. I’m afraid that they will handle other situations like this so poorly again. I hope we become a country where experts are respected and [public health] systems are built by them.

이덕연

I said to myself that mayor Park is a crazy man when I saw his political stunt.

Seok-in Kim

Mayor Park Won-soon is really great in a way. While the President was quiet and people were confused about the MERS situation, he made an announcement in the middle of the night with journalists, which would’ve also helped him divert attention from his son’s military duty controversy. The announcement wasn’t really necessary but he put on a nice heroic show. He ended up getting backlash for releasing inaccurate information. I really wonder how some people can support a man like him who piles up paper towers to show off in this computer age, wears torn shoes, even uses a broken door as a table, which anyone can just buy, for a meeting, and put on a political show in the middle of the night with journalists. How on earth can you find him genuine?

박민주

Buying into false rumors just means they are idiots.

조순일 펌

Let me share the most concise, scientific, realistic and accurate post about MERS. We may be anxious because MERS is spreading throughout the country but let’s overcome this crisis by taking care of our personal hygiene!

1. MERS is a novel coronavirus
2. The coronavirus is an RNA virus that causes respiratory diseases in mammals and birds.
3. A famous new coronavirus is SARS.
4. The coronavirus mutates very quickly.
5. Hence there is no vaccine for it.
6. Of course, there is no vaccine for MERS.
7. This fact amplifies the fear of MERS because it sounds like it is incurable.
8. The vaccine is not for treatment but for prevention.
9. Of course, MERS patients can be treated. To be precise, there are methods to help them overcome the symptoms instead of directly attacking the virus.
10. MERS patients suffer from respiratory, digestive, and cardiac problems. These can be treated.
11. The fatality rate of MERS is high because the respiratory and cardiac problems can be lethal to children or the elderly, and also because it was widespread in the Middle East where medical conditions are poor.
12. Some MERS patients died quickly in Korea because the infections happened in hospitals and they already had respiratory diseases. In other words, MERS became the trigger but they didn’t die only because of it.
13. If a healthy person is infected with MERS, they can fully recover within two weeks if they get treated properly. FYI, the first American MERS patient recovered in 10 days.
14. Again, although there is no vaccine, there are treatment methods. Of course, you will suffer if you are infected.
15. To prevent a MERS infection is just like preventing a flu infection. In other words, if you are as careful as you would be to avoid catching flu, you won’t get MERS. In fact, MERS is less infectious than the common flu. Coronaviruses cannot survive for long in the air.
16. Wash your hands often. Use mouthwash or brush your teeth often. Eat food that helps keep your immune system healthy. Do some exercise.
17. You will not have any problem if you follow the common precautions to avoid flu.

Lastly, the only reason for this public fear is the government officials’ poor handling of the situation. If they quarantined the patient who visited the dangerous region from the beginning, we would’ve had no problem, just like in the US. Instead, they were running about in confusion. I hope you guys take good care of your personal hygiene.

Chief of Gunsan Medical Center, Kim Young-jin

박성현

This seems to be more about the health ministry and government’s handling than the disease’s danger itself. Don’t you think people are afraid that the government is too complacent? The mayor took the lead, which imposes responsibilities on himself. Let’s wait and see.

김현준

“Although I have no expertise in that area…”, “No matter how much expertise you have in that area…”. These two phrases are fucking disgusting for real. I don’t want to hear it any more.

김영민

Isn’t the problem stemming from the incompetent health ministry? Apart from the danger of MERS, the government’s handling of this has been incompetent and infected people were nonchalantly roaming around. This is factual as much as what the post said is factual. They have trouble containing MERS, a disease that is not even that troublesome. How can they control other diseases in the future then?

박지욱

“I am an enlightened person so I should force myself to make some kind of criticism first somehow, haha.”

Chae Won Lim

Even if mayor Park put on a show with journalists in the middle of the night, the central government isn’t even doing something like that. I know that MERS is just like the common flu for healthy people with good immune system. However, regardless of the disease’s deadliness, isn’t it true that the government hasn’t implemented any measures to contain it and comfort people? The subways and streets are full of people wearing masks. There are not many people who know that MERS is comparable to flu. There are many scared people who wear a mask and refrain from going out and doing normal activities. What’s important here is that people would feel more relieved if the President came forward as a leader of our nation and explained how it is not that dangerous, what measures the government is taking and what the current status is. Then we wouldn’t waste time arguing for nothing.

BBo Yun Jang [Responding to above]

But mayor Park’s statement made people more scared.

Seok-hoon Choi

It is true that the danger of MERS has been exaggerated. Shouldn’t the government have dealt with the matter properly from the beginning so that people can realize it is a smaller problem than they thought? They said there would be no death but four people have already died. They said there would be no tertiary infections but there have been several cases so far. They can’t even control travelers. Due to a series of idiotic measures, distrust of the government has exponentially increased. They should’ve handled it competently in the first place to be able to laugh at MERS-related rumors. The Seoul mayor may have his critics, but in the current chess game, he called checkmate first.

From Liberalism: [June 5, 2015]

The public wants to be in despair

For Koreans, the most pessimistic claims always become the truth.

Whenever important social issues arise, the public opinions’ patterns are strikingly similar. The most negative and extreme predictions receive the highest votes. All the other views face a public execution.

You get witch-hunted if you express optimistic views about the MERS situation or criticize some people’s overreaction. Claims based on expertise or facts are not important here. Statistics also lose their meaning.

On the other hand, an exaggerated depiction of danger is righteous in itself. The media outlets compete for more sensational reports. Experts either give up and join the tide or remain silent until the mob storm passes by.

Numerous doctors who criticized the public’s overreaction on their blogs were labeled “irresponsible” by many netizens. It is nearly impossible to stand against that atmosphere where you have to express more pessimistic perspectives and fuel the chaos to be deemed trustworthy.

From then on, opportunist politicians who were observing the tide of public sentiment come forward one by one. The public obediently supports anyone who gives them the food called “fear”. The one who satisfies the public’s thirst for despair becomes the master. Whether the master speaks the truth or not doesn’t matter any more.

Non-experts among celebrities, social leaders and civic groups, some of whom are even uneducated, come forward to lead public opinions. They criticize society and the government through opinions that are pessimistic enough for the public’s liking without proper basis. If you oppose them, you get witch-hunted.

Even if you replace ‘MERS’ with ‘mad cow disease’ or another sensitive keyword, this post still perfectly holds true. They have shown the same reactions every time and they will do so in the future without exception.

The public longs for freedom. The freedom where they can indulge in panic and disrupt society. The freedom where they can ignore optimistic perspectives. The freedom where they can seek those who are responsible for problems and burn them alive. The freedom where they can go out on streets in tears and declare everything that gets in their way dead. And the freedom to be in despair.

mad-cow-riot

‘Mad cow disease’ protests in 2008. Many young Korean conservatives consider the event as their awakening.

Comments from Liberalism:
Kitaek Jeong

After these propaganda and conspiracy theories, I’m worried that even when a real disaster happens someday, people would be desensitized because of the boy who cried wolf effect.

Son Hyunmin

If you get prepared to face problems with a cynical or pessimistic attitude, it may result in good consequences. The problem is when they just go around screaming “Look! We’re all gonna die! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

JeongHyun Kim

They are going apeshit because of something like the common flu.

김민석

You are right. Same with the diving bell controversy during the Sewol operations. It is a problem that some people trust social media and non-experts so much.

김덕희

If the danger of MERS has been as exaggerated as Liberalism claims, is it also the government’s duty to inform and comfort people. Is it okay to just label anxious people as socially disruptive? If ignorant people are overreacting, why is the Disease Control Center running a task force and putting patients in quarantine even though it is less dangerous than TB? Why are the US or even Chinese government making a big deal out of this?

박종선 [Responding to above]

Even if the government tries to inform and comfort people, most people see what they want to see. They will face a lot of resistance. If you pay enough attention, you could see the effort from the government officials. The minister of health has made multiple statements. Also, TB patients are quarantined, too.

Miguel Choi [Responding to 김덕희]

Your words are contradictory. Because people are anxious, the government is running a task team and quarantines patients. Although it is less dangerous than TB, since it is still infectious, patients are quarantined. People like you criticize the government if they prepare measures and nothing happens because they waste precious tax money and time, and also criticize the government for being incompetent if their response is even slightly delayed. Doctors and the person who first discovered MERS say we don’t need to worry too much. Do you only listen to what you want to listen to?

김규민

You are going too far, Liberalism, kekekekeke. Why would the public want despair, kekeke… They just want a trustworthy government.

안석호 [Responding to above]

French politician and politics researcher Alexis de Tocqueville said a nation gets the government on the same level as its people. People strictly ask the government and the President to take every responsibility but they are so lenient about themselves. How do you think we can solve fundamental problems? They say the nation is the people but how can we get a trustworthy government if we don’t change?

Kitaek Jeong [Responding to 김규민]

If you do nothing and expect the government to take care of everything, dictatorship is the best for you. You just do what your leader tells you to do and if something goes wrong, you can entirely blame the leader. However, we live in a free democracy and each individual citizen should be mature.

Heagang Ko

This post represents what I feel this blog is usually lacking. Objectively, MERS is a disease that can be effectively prevented if they implement thorough inspection and safety measures. In fact, uncontrollable diseases exist only is post-apocalyptic novels. The media is always sensational in a competitive society. They die out if they lose attention. The issues directly relate to our desire for safety and are supposed to invoke strong reactions. We are supposed to get prepared for the worst. It is human nature. Here, our rationality kicks in. Rational minds control instinct and ponder about intelligent solutions. Such solutions require social references. It is more effective if the social references have public confidence. Now, in this MERS situation, which institution should have the public’s confidence? It should be some national or international organizations or at least some group that represents more than just an individual expert. For 13 days, what was there as a reference for the public? You can’t blame them for acting according to their instinct when their rationality is paralyzed. When you pose a problem, you should first consider the cause and effect or at least some possible connections. It is absurd to regard natural human nature as something specific about ‘Koreans’.

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  • 금정산

    Everyone knows that the media uses scare tactics to attract an audience; and yet people are still impressionable.

    People have too much faith in deliverance from “the news” and politicians, as if they are acting in our best interests. They aren’t; they’re self interested.

    Open your eyes, people. Think critically.

    • Xman2014

      Koreans don’t rely on traditional media. They instead choose to believe in social networking sites, blogs, internet news, portal sites like Naver and Daum, citizen broadcasts like Afreeca and Youtube, and citizen reporting like Ohmynews. Most all of these internet mediums which cater to the younger audiences, are heavily left of the center politically. Much of them rely on rumors and unverified news. They are cynical of the government for whatever it does. If the government is voted out of power in the next election, and they elect a left leaning government, then the focus of the grief will shift to the United States and its military in Korea. It’s easy for anyone to manipulate the Korean internet which is the heart of the Korean society, and mass mobilize it against a known entity .

      “There is something going on more fundamental than public health anxiety. There are echoes of the hysteria associated with the Mad Cow Disease demonstrations seven years ago, when the real issue was not public health but the breakdown in trust between the electorate and the government.”

      http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=3005259

      After 7 years of eating US mad cow beef, we’re all still here, and we have not gone mad. Or have we?

      • Boris

        Nah, you were already mad. Blaming the beef was just convenient. (JK)

  • suppertime

    Who cares if people are worried and washing their hands more than necessary? It may lead to chapped skin but is that really so bad? And should we be so worried about retail sales? Maybe it’s good Koreans are taking a break from shopping, spending more quality time with their families. Closing schools unnecessarily is a mistake though, shouldn’t have done that.

  • commander

    Initial responses by the health authorities are undeniably to blame for MERS that has infected 150 people, including six deaths, with more than 5,000 under quarantine.

    The failure to keep the public informed about latest developments and credible containment measures has also fueled public distrust, along with sensational media reports.

    Worse yet, the budding sign of consumption recovery to stimulate the stagnant economy has been flickering as mass venues are avoided for fear of MERS infections in a move that some describe as an overreaction and others call as a reasonable response to keep infection likelihood to a minimum.

    The noticeable reduction in consumption appears to have a direct impact on the BOK’s recent decision that cuts its benchmark interest rate 0.25 percent point to a record low of 1.5 percent. The BOK governor even said in a press conference that the bank will stick to the current interest rate if the US Federal Reserve Board hikes its interest rate, which is widely predicted to be made in mid-September.

    For me, the public resentment comes from a combination of health regulators’ poor responses and deteriorating economic prospect.

  • Consoleboy

    FYI this MERS scare is engineered by Japan and US. Its man made virus. All flu virus are man made virus. Think about it. Saudi Arabia and Korea have been the two targets. US and Japan want to decimate these two countrys economy.

    • David

      Wacko alert

      • Consoleboy

        Dont you know about this? Japan has playing with the flu virus for years.

  • 안토니

    Some seems to totally miss the point.
    MERS isn’t the most dangerous disease in the world ? Luckily yes. Is that a reason for not handling this epidemic in an appropriate way ?
    Thinking it’s ok to be nonchalant with some disease because there are lots of others anyway is not professional at all.
    A netizen said “MERS is a disease that can be effectively prevented if they implement thorough inspection and safety measures” and he’s right, we’ve seen it in many others developed countries.
    If they don’t do things right for MERS, they won’t do it right for the rest either.
    Remember that for the coast guards, at first, the Sewol sinking was seen as “no big deal, we have seen worse”.
    All matters should be taken with the same rigorous approach, that’s the key to public safety.

  • ShootehAnon

    Whatever. I’m just amazed by the cartoon level incompetence of the government.

  • Ncky

    I completely agree with this article. I broke down some of the reasons why MERS panic has spread: http://www.neonbutmore.com/mers-virus-viral-sensation-korea/

  • Papi

    So it’s been nearly a month and still the cases come in (3 more yesterday).
    Interesting that Thailand and China managed to isolate patient zero and prevent it spreading any further.
    You guys must be really angry and upset that it appears Thais and Chinese (whom Koreans consider ‘dirty’) have better personal hygene and cleaner hospitals than Korea.

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