Hundreds fall ill from heat at scout gathering in South Korea
By John Yoon
As thousands of teenagers sat in a sweltering grass field in rural South Korea on Wednesday for the opening ceremony of a global scout gathering, hundreds of attendees began falling ill from the blistering heat.
At least 125 people were hospitalized with heat exhaustion, and hundreds more have exhibited heat-related symptoms in the five days since the scouts and scout leaders from around the world began arriving in South Korea for the giant camp, officials said Thursday.
The World Scout Jamboree, for which scouts congregate in a different host country every four years, has drawn more than 43,000 teenagers from 158 countries to the western coast of South Korea this year. The event coincides with the worst heat wave that the country has experienced in years, with temperatures soaring to a high of 100 on Wednesday.
“It’s like a sauna,” said Leona Azhar, 21, a volunteer from Malaysia who has been a scout for seven years. “It’s really hard to find shade,” she added. “I’m dripping with sweat.”
Hwang Seon-gyeong, a spokesperson for the Jeonbuk Fire Service, said that hospitalizations had surged during the opening ceremony, which was attended by Bear Grylls, a British TV personality who was a chief scout, and President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea, both of whom gave speeches.
Hwang said that the fire authorities had asked the jamboree’s executive committee to pause the ceremony because officials were overwhelmed by the number of people falling ill. The gathering’s organizers said that they had allowed the ceremony to continue out of concern that a sudden cancellation might lead to greater panic.
“There were people fainting everywhere,” Azhar said.
Lee Sang-min, the South Korean interior minister and a member of the jamboree’s organizing committee, issued an emergency directive on Thursday to send more ambulances, mobile hospitals and air-conditioning units to the camp.
As temperatures remained in the 90s, attendees continued to struggle with the heat on Thursday, with some collapsing and needing treatment at an on-site hospital. None of those cases were severe, however, and all the patients were later discharged, Hwang said.