The heir to the Samsung Group publicly apologized this week for failing to control the spread of the deadly MERS virus at a hospital run by the company's foundation. As the Associated Press reports, Lee Jae-yong issued the apology in a nationally televised speech, his first public address since taking over the Samsung Foundation last month. The Samsung Foundation owns the Samsung Medical Center, one of the largest hospitals in South Korea. Eighty-five of the 175 MERS cases in South Korea had connections to the Samsung Medical Center, fueling calls for an investigation over the hospital's handling of its patients.
"Our Samsung Medical Center could not stop the infection and the spread of the MERS, causing so much pain and worries to the public," Lee said. "I bow my head to apologize."
27 people have died since the outbreak began last month
MERS is a respiratory virus that was first identified in humans in Saudi Arabia three years ago. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, though it can lead to more serious complications like pneumonia and kidney failure. The virus has since been identified in Asia and the US, with the majority of cases in the Middle East. Twenty-seven people have died since the outbreak started in South Korea, making it the largest outbreak outside Saudi Arabia. It has been traced back to a 68-year-old businessman who returned to South Korea from the Middle East last month.
The Samsung Medical Center, regarded as one of the country's best hospitals, has come under criticism for not taking swifter action after a patient was confirmed to have MERS last month. A week later, another MERS patient spent about three days in the hospital's crowded emergency ward after being misdiagnosed with pneumonia, coming into contact with hundreds of patients and staff members. An emergency ward orderly later tested positive for MERS after working for several days. The hospital has since stopped receiving patients and has suspended many services.
Lee, 47, is the only son of Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee. He was appointed vice chairman of Samsung Electronics in 2012, and assumed a stronger position in the group with a stock merger announced last month. His 73-year-old father remains hospitalized at the Samsung Medical Center after suffering a heart attack last May.
In his address, Lee Jae-yong vowed to reform practices at the Samsung Medical Center, adding that his father's ongoing hospitalization there allows him to sympathize with MERS patients and their families. "I understand even to a small degree the worry and pain that patients and their families have experienced," he said.