“About 200,000 foreigners are living in Korea who do not speak fluent Korean. Is the country doing anything to help them in the case of an outbreak?”
So asked Marek Repovský, First Counsellor for the Delegation of the European Union to Korea, who sat among the audience at the “Risk communication and leadership during health emergencies” workshop held in downtown Seoul Wednesday.
Stupefied, the spokesperson for the Korea Centers for Disease and Prevention stared into blank space. “I could not understand the point of the question. Could you say it again?” the KCDC spokesperson asked.
After he repeated the question, the spokesman then asked what it meant in Korean. A Korean member in the audience translated the question for him from the back of the room.
Then there was silence.
When the spokesperson, Park Ki-soo, began to answer, he stumbled to find the right words, and after an insufficient answer, he smiled weakly saying, “That was a good question, and a bad answer.”
The issues continued with another person in the audience of the seminar asking what is being done for disabled people such as the blind or the hearing-impaired.
Again, there was a pause, a stumbling for words, and finally an inadequate reply.
The questions caught the spokesperson off-guard. In the seminar room, experts from all over the world sat with a puzzled look on their faces, not being able to understand his answers. After all, the spokesperson had just delivered a lengthy, informed presentation on the KCDC’s efforts to improve infectious disease control measures.
Then the inevitable question came to mind: why couldn’t he answer the questions?
Government officials and institutions have spent copious amounts of energy, time, and money to analyze what happened during the MERS outbreak and worked to improve weak areas.
Although much has improved, the question and answer session illuminated a deeper problem with government institutions: a lack of consideration for minorities.
After the question-and-answer session had ended, participants went up to the stage to commemorate the two-day seminar with a picture. In the back of the room, Repovský stayed behind in his seat, looking at his phone. Curious, this reporter approached him with a question: “Do you possibly have a solution to your question?”
Repovský looked up from his phone and thought for a moment before replying.
“Well, what I would do is register phone numbers of foreigners and send out emergency text messages or notifications in times of crisis, in English, of course,” he said.
Even though the spokesperson’s fumbled response revealed yet another weak point in the government’s efforts to prepare for a possible epidemic, it was a humbling lesson learned.
<© Korea Biomedical Review, All rights reserved.>