The son and heir of South Korea’s Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee bowed in apology on Tuesday for mistakes made by a hospital run by his corporation during the country’s MERS virus outbreak.
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has claimed 27 lives in South Korea so far, and nearly half of the 175 confirmed infections in the country were traced back to the prestigious Samsung Medical Center.
“I, myself, feel devastated and fully responsible,” said Jay Y. Lee on national television, adding his company will do everything possible to stop the outbreak.
"Our Samsung Medical Center was unable to stop the MERS infection and its spread, and caused too much suffering and concern to the public. I bow my head in apology," Lee said.
"We have failed to live up to the expectation and trust of the public."
South Korea’s MERS outbreak first came to the country with a patient at the Samsung hospital who had recently returned from the Middle East on a business trip. The hospital’s officials have been criticised for allowing nearly 900 people to enter the emergency room where the man was staying for two days before he was diagnosed.
Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee has been in the same hospital during the ongoing outbreak following a heart attack last year.
“My father's been lying at this hospital for over a year. I understand the distress and anxiety that the patients and their families have suffered,” said Jay Y. Lee on his 47th birthday. He has been put in charge of the family-run conglomerate since his father was hospitalised.
The MERS outbreak has badly affected South Korea's economy and tourism as fearful consumers and visitors stay home. In more positive news, South Korean health officials said on Tuesday that 54 people who were infected with virus have fully recovered, including a 39-year-old pregnant woman and her newborn baby .
Recently the Word Health Organization (WHO) announced that the MERS outbreak in South Korea is "large and complex" and more cases should be expected.
The disease was first identified in humans in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and is similar to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus which left more than 800 people dead and infected about 8,000 people worldwide between 2002 and 2003. The MERS virus has so far caused the deaths of more than 446 people worldwide.
MERS does not spread from human to human easily but its fatality rate is much higher than SARS, according to WHO figures. There is not yet any vaccine or cure for the virus.