Seoul Mayor vs. ‘MERS Doctor’ vs. Public Opinion

Ever since the first Korean patient was diagnosed with MERS, a number of news articles have covered MERS-related affairs. As it has been the case with previous high-profile public safety issues in the nation, on the Korean internet, another round of chaotic truth-seeking battle has been going on in the midst of sprawling public confusion, misinformation, rumors, conspiracy theories, distrust of authority, and politically-charged accusations. The following articles focus on the discord between the mayor of Seoul and a doctor who was diagnosed with MERS.

From YTN: [June 4, 2015]

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon Makes Emergency Announcement Regarding MERS


Please refer to the following article for the context.
South Korea: 1,500 should stay home because of MERS-infected doctor

Comments from Naver:

Ah…the mayor is better than the President…


I got goosebumps….. Regardless of whether it was politically calculated or not, he is a thousand times better than the idiotic government.


Wow, mayor. I got goosebumps. I can feel how much you are concerned about your citizens. I hope this turmoil passes by quickly.


Let’s gather our strength and overcome this together.


They are not making a movie, right????


Vote this up if you agree that Park Geun-hye should be impeached.


Seoul mayor is doing what the President is supposed to do.


What was the President doing while the mayor was making this statement?


I almost thought Park Won-soon was the President.


I write a comment here for the first time…. I guess this is why we vote….ㅠㅠ Thank you, Seoul mayor… I’m proud that I live in Seoul.

Soon after, the doctor at the center of the controversy actively refuted mayor Park’s remarks in interviews.

From Pressian: [June 5, 2015]

[Exclusive Interview] “Exposing 1,500 people to MERS? I’m not an idiot!”


Please refer to the following articles for context.
Seoul mayor’s ‘MERS politics’
‘I’m not an idiot’: MERS-hit doctor contradicts Seoul mayor’s story

Comments from Naver:


What matters is that the doctor didn’t get any quarantine notice from the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, he didn’t even know that he was taking care of a patient who might have been infected with MERS. When he talked to the hospital about his concern about a MERS infection, they were dismissive. It seems Seoul city officials also didn’t get accurate information from the Disease Control Center. Some misinformation could’ve been delivered in that process. Although the doctor wasn’t aware of his infection, he still visited places with lots of people despite the possibility of his infection. It seems the Disease Control Center was the most wrong for not sharing accurate information.

pisz**** [Responding to above]

He was traveling when he had no symptoms. MERS is not infectious when there aren’t symptoms yet. Why do they keep going on about 1,500 people? If it is infectious even without symptoms, every citizen would have to be self-quarantined, idiots. Sigh, for real, kekekeke, do you not get it?

song**** [Responding to pink****]

Our public loses its balance and gets paranoid so easily…The most responsible ones are the media, of course. There are politicians and businessmen who try to take advantage of it, too. Doesn’t it seem like the whole nation will collapse because of MERS? Doesn’t it seem like MERS is the only thing that matters in the country now? Despite MERS, some people play baseball, travel abroad or go to school. Don’t you want to blame them? However, it is hard for a normal healthy person to get infected with MERS. Even if they get infected, they would never die. The people who died already had some serious diseases. It’s almost like the common flu. All the Koreans who died after getting infected with MERS this time were already in the hospital for serious diseases. Flu is more dangerous. For example, 2,000 Koreans die every year because of the flu. Ever since MERS was first discovered, only about 400 people throughout the world died because of it over the past several years. But people are making a huge fuss only about MERS.


Conclusion (facts): The doctor was diagnosed with MERS anyway. He went to the ‘L’ tower’s reconstruction meeting in Yangjae-dong. He went to a symposium at the hospital. He went home. He used his own car. What matters for us is not his personal integrity and honor as a doctor. We only care about the MERS patient’s traveling route. Park Won-soon didn’t intend to criticize the doctor personally. He criticized the government.

lalh**** [Responding to above]

Your propaganda is sick, keke. Are you brainless? He didn’t attend those meetings after he was diagnosed with MERS. He was diagnosed after attending them. It makes a huge difference if you change the sequence. Stop the propaganda.


If what the doctor said is true, the Disease Control Center gave shitty information. You should blame them. Park Won-soon might have thought it was a serious problem so he gave the announcement. Do not twist things.

qufg**** [Responding to above]

Stop being an apologist for mayor Park so much. He should’ve talked to the doctor first before making a hasty announcement. He tried to take advantage of the situation to gain popularity. It was wrong of him. Even if he is a politician you support, you should know when to criticize him.


What’s funny is that the doctor isn’t worried at all about the fact that he was traveling around while being unaware that he was a MERS patient. Mayor Park asked him to be self-quarantined to protect citizens before the weekend starts. When did he criticize the doctor personally?

awdf**** [Responding to above]

Infection and carrying the virus are totally different things. He showed the MERS symptoms from the 31st and that’s when it became infectious. Of course, mayor Park who wasn’t even aware of this made a huge mistake with his statement even without asking the doctor.

yuki**** [Responding to above]

Do you think there could be nobody who had a weak immune system or serious diseases among the 1,500 people? Is it wrong to take tight precautions? The situation got worse initially because people were too laid back. The doctor said he has rhinitis. How does he know for sure his then-symptoms were due to usual rhinitis but not MERS?! Whether mayor Park was taking advantage of this chance or not, he gave more assurance than the President who does nothing. You should think about how the national leader isn’t doing her job!


Since he wasn’t aware, he can say being blamed is unfair but it is an undeniable fact that he was traveling around after having contact with the patient who had MERS. How did he know his then-symptoms were due to his usual allergy but not MERS? Is it okay because he was just sitting in a corner at the meetings? It seems even sharing the same space can make you infected.

dlgu**** [Responding to above]

The point is that his wife didn’t get infected while the doctor still thought he only had his usual rhinitis. MERS is infectious only when the patient shows the symptoms. It was just his usual rhinitis symptom then indeed because his wife is okay.

ehcl**** [Responding to larr****]

If you don’t want to read an article properly, please do not make comments or vote up other comments! The doctor didn’t even directly treat the MERS patient.


“It is true that I attended the symposium in the morning on the 30th. However, I was sitting in a corner with nobody around me. I didn’t want to study on that day. (laugh)” I found it weird that he laughed. In a situation where he was on the receiving end of resentment and suspicion, how could he make a joke and laugh????

thin**** [Responding to above]

Why not? You judges of the Supreme Laughter Court….

last**** [Responding to mith****]

Man, you creepy psychos are so busy bashing doctors while never showing any gratitude to them who protect citizens’ lives. Do you hate them just because they belong to the upper class? What kind of uncivilized people treat their doctors like this? Is there any developed country that treats their doctors so poorly like in Korea where the doctors don’t even get paid properly while sacrificing themselves? Learn to be thankful. There are doctors who can’t even sleep at this moment to save people’s lives at the front line.


What’s strange is that the doctor shows a strong victim complex although mayor Park didn’t directly criticize him in his statement. Also, although they say MERS is not infectious during the latent period, did the doctor get infected from the patient with MERS in that period? It seems he is just making excuses to avoid responsibilities as a doctor in the interview.

migh**** [Responding to above]

You are trying to defend mayor Park too much. The mayor wrongfully said the doctor ignored his quarantine notice and traveled around. People said a lot of bad things about the doctor. Wouldn’t you feel wrongly attacked too?


So he attended those meetings after all. I’m not trying to defend mayor Park but it is true that he exposed more than a thousand people to danger. I don’t think mayor Park said the doctor was traveling even after he was diagnosed with MERS. The situation is dangerous enough. I don’t think it is right to question his political motive. I think it was very necessary. Isn’t it enough that he attended meetings with lots of people even when you could get infected from a patient on the same floor in the hospital?

cho4**** [Responding to above]

You fool, it is not infectious during the latent period…

toma**** [Responding to above]

What about the ambiguous transition between the latent and active periods? The government showed a passive attitude like you and see what happened!


The doctors’ claims don’t make sense. He said when he works too hard, his rhinitis symptoms get worse and he begins to cough. How did he know the symptoms he had on the 29th were due to his usual sickness but not MERS? Since he is so confident about the distinction, is he god?

wild**** [Responding to above]

Did you even read the whole article before writing the comment? He said he didn’t even think he could’ve been infected with MERS on the 29th so he thought it could only be his usual rhinitis. On the 30th, he learned that one of the patients [who was in contact with a MERS patient] he treated was quarantined due to a potential MERS infection. Then he quarantined himself and checked to see if he was infected. You have your own ideas completely different from what the article said. How come a comment like this gets so many up-votes? Do they only read comments here?

bers**** [Responding to exmd****]

I wouldn’t say he doesn’t make sense. It has to be judged with medical expertise. The Disease Control Center is supposed to take care of all this but they don’t communicate well. Even lawmakers or city officials don’t seem to know well.

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  • suppertime

    This was a big political clown show a week ago, already seems so outdated. The doctor’s now in very poor condition, fighting for his life. People aren’t so complacent now about letting infected people run around because you’re totally not contagious unless you get symptoms. A week ago the government wasn’t even telling people they were exposed (like this doctor), the policy was it should be kept secret so as not to alarm people. Imagine how things would be now if the mayor hadn’t come out and put a fire under the government.

    • troll_harder

      Total failure by the administration and health staff…

    • commander

      The common thread running through major public safety incidents during this adminsitration is the absence of transparency and accountability on the part of the government. It seems like major government officials are trying to hold on to their posts without taking their own initiative to bring things under control. They always look to Blue House when chips are down and execute instructions from the presidential office, thus avoiding responsibilties that could cost them their jobs.

  • commander

    As for the outbreak of an infectious disease such as Middle East Respuratory Syndrome, or MERS, the public health regulators can’t be overcareful in extinguishing the virus. What is as important as professional assessments about a possible proliferation is whether the public feels safe and secure against the disease.

    But Health Minister Moo Hyung-poo just said on multiple occasions that there is no significant risk of a MERS spread, but failed to set forth a package of containment steps to the public.

    In contrast to the past press briefing where he spoke of MERS infections in an unconvincing manner, he appeared energetic and charged when he countered Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said in a press conference that the City government has yet to receive any latest uptdates on the MERS infections from the health ministry, making them initiate its own measures to safeguard the Seoulites given the gravity of the state of affairs.

    The conservative media billed the Seoul mayor’s moves more as a manifestation of his bid for the 2017 presidential election than as legitimate execution of his duties as the metropolitan city chief.

    In the same vein, the health minister expressed uneasiness when the education minister, a member of the same ruling Saenuri Party as Mr. Moon, ordered preschools and elementary schools to shut down to stave off a MERS spread among children whose weak immune systems are repotedly vulnerable to the deadly virus.

    Mr. Moon described the shutdown instruction as unnecessary in that it could fuel confusion and fear among the public when the spread likelihood is low.

    But he didn’t voiced as strong a grievance to the education minister as one to the Seoul city mayor, in what some watchers believe is a sign that the public health regulator puts more of an emphasis on politics than on MERS control, one reason the intially crucial moment of containment was gone with no effective measures.

  • Dark Night

    This Seoul Mayor should be arrested. He made an announcement for political gain, and now there is massive chaos among the Korean people. No matter how inapt the Central Government may have been, the Mayor should have kept his cool rather than try to get popular by jumping into the limelight.
    We’ve all seen outbreak movies where the professionals almost contain the problem only to have a politician mess stuff up by causing mass confusion. It surprises me that there are Korean’s that are gullible enough to consider this self serving twat as a presidential candidate after what he has just done.
    I simply hope that he meets the same fate that all politicians receive near the end of the outbreak movies.

    • commander

      “We’ve all seen outbreak movies where the professionals almost contain the problem only to have a politician mess stuff up by causing mass confusion.”

      The moive you saw has a plot extremely different from the unfolding one.

      Currently, the MERS infections exceed 100, with about 3,400 being placed in isolation.

      Anther example illustrating the severity of MERS infections is that President Park Geun-hye delayed her planned trip, scheduled next week, to the United States in a display of her commitment to stop the MERS spread.

      What led you to believe that “almost contained the deadly virus”?

      • Dark Night

        “almost contained deadly virus” is a situation in a movie. MERS is far from being as deadly as those “”hypothetical” viruses and is much less infectious. So this official’s action is more overkill than necessary.

        Also President Park not going on her trip to the US is more linked to her popularity than the severity of the situation. I am surprised that her decision is not being criticized, as it goes directly against the government’s rhetoric of “go back to your normal life”.

        Also giving public health experts powers to order hospital closing is not that big of a deal, especially when most of the infections have been caused in hospitals. I’m more or less surprised that there has not been severe penalties to those who disobeyed physical quarantine procedures.

        • commander

          When you mentioned a movie story where vitus was almost contained but that didn’t happen when politicians weighed in, politicizing the situation, you intended Mayor Park as the kind of politicians.

          There is no such a thing as not-dangerous pandemic in the world.

          If the MERS is not fatal, there is a cure for it, why were there many deaths?

    • suppertime

      Look around. There’s no chaos or panic. Only thing the mayor did was pressure the government into instituting a transparent quarantine program. By the doctor’s own words, only 2 weeks ago, he examined a patient who was in the same room as a known MERs patient and no one told the doctor about it until 2 days later. That kind of thing would still be going on if it hadn’t been for the mayor.

      • Dark Night

        First of all, the only reason that there is “less” chaos or panic is because the media that once was fear mongering has changed its position towards limiting panic. So the media that first posted 40% fatality rates are now saying that Korea’s fatality rates are lower than 10%, that a 70 year-old woman infected by MERS has recovered. Seems like the backlash of its previous broadcasts was too high.
        Also ,the ends should not justify the means. The mayor’s announcement was wrong in all aspects but most in its execution. He made his announcement with no prior contact with the central government. He simply came out and blurted it to the public. It contradicted with the central government’s position and central disease control system.
        Look, my point is, you don’t go against the system. No one is supposed to. If the system is broken, you don’t go maverick and do what you want, once the problem is over you go back to the system and fix it. Its a accumulative process which differentiates the developed world from the emerging world. A process that, I am sorry to say, takes time and even casualties. But in the future will benefit the country as a whole.
        Korea’s disaster control system is a joke, and do you know why? Its because no one respects the system. Everyone does what they think is right. This politician did so, and what is worse probably set a wrong example for future public figures that going maverick is positive. Korea might be lucky this time but who’s to say it will be the next time around? and believe me there always is a next time.

        • suppertime

          The government wasn’t even telling people that were exposed to known MERS patients, letting them go about their business. When the mayor learned about this, he was rightly shocked made a very measured announcement. Thankfully this created fear and anxiety in the government and they started to institute a more transparent and strict quarantine system. A couple of days later, we learned that dozens of people at hospitals were infected. Just imagine where this outbreak would be now if the mayor hadn’t publicly pressured the government to take its job more seriously.

          • Xman2014

            Hate to tell you this, but Mayor Park Won Soon made his speech demanding the government lift the ban on information, only hours after he was told by the Korean central government that the government was lifting the ban. So why did he make that speech? Everyone’s wondering, but everyone knows why he still made that speech knowing full well that the government was lifting the ban. He considers himself a Presidential candidate in the next general election in 2 years. He had to make himself look like a hero that made the government change their minds about announcing which hospital the MERS outbreak occurred. At the same time, the mayor threw a 38 year old innocent doctor under the bus, telling the world that he intentionally broke quarantine and spread the disease around the city, when that was not the case at all. That doctor, under quarantine, bitterly disputed the Mayor, and wrote that he was so angry and stressed out about what the mayor did to him. He soon fell very ill, under stress, and is now on oxygen tank. This disease is fatal to the old and the sick, the young doctor should not have gotten this ill, but thanks to the Mayor’s words, he’s now in serious condition.

          • Dark Night

            Uh… Please read what I wrote before posting, OK? It doesn’t matter if his actions brought a positive outcome, which I strongly doubt it did, what matters is he went against a system that was already in place. You don’t go against a system, because no one person is or should be above the system.

  • KoreanPeninsula

    Seoul Mayor/ Current Mayor = Cannot trust. MERS Doctor= Too Slow/ Lazy to react emergency crises. Public Opinion= Backward, Wash Hands with Soap, Stop Sneezing in public places, Use Tissue paper cover up your mouth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Avoid crowded places. Time being stay out of crowded places.

  • Xman2014

    Irresponsible for the mayor to accuse the doctor of attending the symposium knowing that he had MERS. If I was that doctor, I would sue that mayor. He was diagnosed with MERS AfTER he attended the meeting, and had no ideal he was infected, and he had no symptoms of the disease until a day later. The doctor could not have spread the disease because he was not coughing or sneezing and did not have any symptoms.

    MERS is spread through massive amounts of saliva and tears, it’s very difficult for the public to catch it without close personal contacts. It is not an airborne disease like SARS. There’s a reason why all of the infected people got infected in the hospital. Either they were doctors and nurses and relatives of patients, who all cared for the MERS patients, or they were people in the hospital emergency rooms where they were waiting in the same rooms with coughing and sneezing but yet to be diagnosed MERS patients.

    Seoul Mayor went against WHO guide lines that this is not a disease that should shut down the country. And even if you get it, the consequences are from mild to strong flu like symptoms for those who are healthy. However it could get deadly for those older sick people whose immune system is weak like cancer patients or major surgery patients recovering in a hospital.

    South Korea is severely overreacting, but I suppose it’s better to error on caution. According to WHO, the infection rate in South Korea is high due to the fact that the health authorities are very thorough and methodical in catching and quarantining infected people who otherwise in normal times, would have gone unnoticed in other countries (due to the fact that symptoms for the disease is very mild in healthy population, and problems don’t get noticed until it hits the hospital settings).

  • Xman2014

    Totally overrated and hyped up. The World Health Organization disagrees with South Korean government closing schools and overhyping the disease.

  • redwhitedude

    Count this as another issue mishandled by Park Geun Hye. She really is showing how inept she is as president.

  • Lui C Brick

    Basically i dont care bout the political. However Korean idiots tried to spread this to China twice. Filthy animals. Koreans in China have had an umage of being dirty. Now we know even the hospitals in there are too. Cleanup your mess Korea.

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