Via The Korea Herald: [Newsmaker] Korea’s MERS concerns more about politics than health. Excerpt:
South Koreans tend to perceive the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome as a political issue, not a health issue, illustrating a different attitude from what they showed during the flu pandemic that hit the country in 2009, a study revealed Sunday.
According to research led by a public health professor at Seoul National University, Koreans appeared to be more concerned about politics than the deadly virus itself, with the popular words used on Twitter in relation to the outbreak being ones with political meanings, like response, president and quarantine.
The team analyzed the frequently used words on social media to learn Koreans’ sentiments during the two outbreaks. Considering that Koreans mainly blogged in 2009 and have since gone to Twitter to communicate with others online, the research team studied both blog posts and tweets associated with the flu pandemic and MERS to find out the trends in discussions of the diseases.
The most-mentioned figures on Twitter from May 20 to June 18, at the height of the local MERS outbreak, were President Park Geun-hye and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, rather than health-related officials, the report showed.
The two have exchanged criticism over the handling of the outbreak since the mayor revealed in early June that a confirmed MERS patient might have exposed more than 1,500 Seoul citizens to the deadly virus.
Mayor Park publicly blasted the government’s failure to monitor suspected MERS patients and hiding key information from the public and municipalities, vowing to find its “own ways” to protect Seoul residents.
President Park, however, lashed out at the mayor, saying municipalities’ independent actions could add to public confusion. The conservative ruling Saenuri party also accused the liberal mayor of spreading “false” rumors.
Eight out the 10 most-mentioned names on Twitter were politicians. Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo was ranked seventh.
The result drew a clear contrast from how the people responded to the swine flu pandemic of 2009. The disease infected about 760,000 Koreans and claimed 263 lives until it abated a year later.
During the 2009 flu pandemic, the most-mentioned person on blogs from April 28 to Sep. 2 was Park Seung-chul, then-leader of the government’s task force to fight the epidemic.