Today’s Korean News summary 06.18~19.15

Today’s Korean News summary 06.18~19.15
Summarized and translated from Joseon Daily Post.

Daily MERS situation in Korea!
MERS and Korea’s lack of any practical prior preparations
Patient zero, who first brought the MERS virus to Korea, was admitted to a hospital for pneumonia and then moved to a larger hospital for further examination over a month ago. At that larger hospital, it took a lot of time to go through various tests to find what was going on as the patient was not honest about his travel history. It took days to identify he was infected with the MERS virus.

After the results were known, patient zero was silently quarantined and the wheels behind the scenes started to buckle. No one in the government actually had a practical plan in place for this kind of situation. On the floor, medical investigators stumbled through the process of tracking patient zero’ whereabouts during the prior two weeks. The healthcare providers at the related hospitals did nothing since they either had no idea something was up or they did not think of actually reacting in the proper medical way as they had no prior instructions and no one ordered them to do anything.

On the top, the head of the Korean CDC wondered between different government buildings to give briefings in person about the few things he actually knew about the situation. What made matters worse was that these building were located in different cities. Ultimately, the blame for the MERS outbreak getting out of hand should be put on the government’s lack of preparations.

The Jeju Island in MERS Panic
As the fact, that an infectee traveled around Jeju Island prior to getting tested and being confirmed of having MERS, was revealed, the officials of Jeju Island have been busy trying to catch up and track the infectee’s whereabouts from more than 2 weeks ago. This means shutting down the hotel the infectee stayed in for the time being and quarantining many many other people.

This delay was caused by the infectee reporting the details about his travels a few days after he got his test results. This infectee has been aggressively resisting quarantine and put several other people at risk while doing so.

An elderly couple dies of MERS
Recently the wife of a MERS fatality passed away at the age of 83. Her husband had gotten infected when he was admitted to a hospital for pneumonia. He, at the age of 82 died early this month. The wife was infected while taking care of him at the hospital. This is the first case where a couple both died of MERS complications.  The family members say that the government should pay to compensate for their losses.

Politcal News
The ruling party steps one step away from the “congressional reform” bill
Currently, a controversial bill which tries to give the Korean congress more powers over the executive branch is on the floor. It is taking a lot of heat since there is definitely a strong possibility that the bill is unconstitutional. Many see this as an attack against the concept of “separation of the three powers” and a part of the congressional agenda to grab more power for themselves. Whether this view is true depends on one’s point of view but interesting enough this bill actual came on to the floor with support from both the ruling and opposition parties of congress.

It should not be a surprise that the president of Korea came out saying she will veto the bill if it ends up on her desk.  Public opinion is not so warm to the bill also. Recently, the head of the ruling party tried to separate his party from the bill. He voiced his concerns about fighting a “veto” battle with the president who is in his party after all. Also, he said that he thought the bill was constitutionally solid before and now he is not sure. His fellow party members have displayed similar concerns and are trying to distance themselves from what is becoming rotten potato of a bill.

The Korean congress finally ratifies a new prime minister
The position of Korean prime minister has been empty since late April because congress has been dragging their feet in the matter. They had already rejected one candidate.  However, the position is now filled as a new candidate was ratified with 156 votes for and 120 votes against.

Interesting / Fluffy News
Korean parents Big Brothering their kids cell phones
Last April, a new law in Korea went into effect stating that all cell phones sold to underage kids (anyone under 18?) have to mandatorily install a protection software. This software constantly reports all activities and locations on their kid’s phones directly to their parent’s phones. This means that hovering helicopter moms are now NSA satellite moms. The software also blocks access to many internet sites and applications. The Korea electronics industry estimates the current 10% increase in tablet pc sales can be contributed to this new law as these tablets are not regulated by this new law.

Korean Movies are having a bad year
For the first half of this year, Korean movies only took in 50% of the Korean domestic market. There were only 4 movies that more than 2 million people saw. This is in contrast to the last 4 years when the Korean movies’ market share was over 50%.

Economic News
MERS causes consumer spending to freeze
The impact of MERS on the Korean domestic economy is estimated to be much higher than the impact of the Sewol ferry incident. The number of visitors at amusement parks, department stores, and theaters has shrunk by to about 50%~80% of the numbers prior to the outbreak. Even spending on basic stables has reduced by 8% or so.

The effect of MERS is not limited to domestic consumers. According to government’s numbers, about 110,000 foreign visitors canceled their trips to Korea reducing the revenue of tax free shops in Korea by 20~30%. Because of MERS and other factors, some estimate that Korean will not be able to achieve the 3% GDP growth predicted at the beginning of this year.

Korea gains a breather as the U.S. freezes interest rates
As U.S. intentions to extend its zero interest policy for another year leaks out, Korea finds itself with some breathing room as it can ignore the threat of the foreign money exodus for another year.

Korea is opening its financial markets to online only banks
The Korean government has forbid non-conventional banks from operating in Korea. It seems that this may change as a new bill to legalize online only banks is going in front of congress. This is being pushed by the government who is planning to start up these online only banks next year. However, things may not go without a hitch as the bill includes items to allow corporations excluding Korean conglomerates to own up to 50% of an online bank. Currently this figure is set to 4%. In preparations of the bill garnering resistances, the government is thinking to start out with establishing 2 online banks under the current law and expand the number of banks when the bill passes.

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