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Hundreds treated for heat-related illness at World Scout Jamboree in South Korea

Some 43,000 Scouts are participating in a jamboree in southwestern South Korea amid scorching summer temperatures that have left hundreds with heat-related injuries. Photo by Yonhap
1 of 3 | Some 43,000 Scouts are participating in a jamboree in southwestern South Korea amid scorching summer temperatures that have left hundreds with heat-related injuries. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Aug. 3 (UPI) -- Hundreds of participants at the 25th World Scout Jamboree, being held on the southwestern coast of South Korea amid sweltering summer temperatures, were treated for heat-related illness over its first two days, organizers said Thursday.

More than 400 cases of hyperthermia were reported on Tuesday and at least 108 more people were treated for heat-related issues during the event's opening ceremony on Wednesday night.

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Two people remained hospitalized as of early Thursday morning, Choi Chang-haeng, secretary-general of the jamboree's organizing committee, said at a press briefing.

Choi said that the organizers were adding dozens of medical personnel and tripling the number of hospital beds from 70 to 220 in response to the heat, which reached 95 degrees during the opening ceremony.

More than 43,000 Scouts and volunteers from 158 countries have come to the jamboree, which is being held until Aug. 12 near the town of Buan, 110 miles southwest of Seoul. The campsite, on a reclaimed tidal flat, has no trees and offers very little natural shade.

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Reports in local media outlets and on social media described scenes of young Scouts collapsing during the opening ceremony, which featured music performances, a Tae Kwon Do demonstration and appearances by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and British adventure television personality Bear Grylls.

There have also been numerous accounts of a hospital bed shortage, waterlogged conditions at the site due to previous heavy rains, swarms of mosquitoes and spoiled food, including mold found on eggs, as organizers face growing criticism.

Choi acknowledged during his press conference Thursday that the local fire department had asked for the opening ceremony to be called off due to the rash of heat illnesses. He said officials decided the injuries were not serious and allowed the ceremony to continue for another 20 minutes, only cutting short a fireworks finale.

"At that time, we decided that the suspension of the event did not help the safety of the participants," Choi said.

South Korea's Ministry of the Interior and Safety issued an emergency directive on Thursday to deploy measures such as adjusting the program of outdoor events, adding shade shelters, increasing the number of ambulances and introducing a mobile hospital.

"The goal is to ensure that no serious injury or death occurs," Interior Minister Lee Sang-min said, according to a release from his office.

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Prime Minister Han Duck-soo instructed the Defense Ministry to dispatch military doctors to the site, his office said Thursday. He also "sternly" instructed Gender Equality Minister Kim Hyun-sook, who is a co-chair of the jamboree, to monitor safety at the venue until the event is over.

South Korea has been experiencing its hottest summer in recent memory, with the government raising its heatwave warning level to "serious" for the first time in four years after temperatures topped 100 degrees in parts of the country on Wednesday.

A total of 23 people have died due to heat-related causes so far this summer, officials said, more than tripling last year's death toll of seven over the same period.

Around a dozen labor and environmental groups that were previously critical of conditions at the campsite held a joint press conference on Thursday and called for the jamboree's immediate suspension "before an irreparable disaster occurs."

"Heat waves are not something that can be overcome with mental strength," a joint statement released by the Jeonbuk Green Coalition read. "The safety and lives of more than 43,000 youth, volunteers, event officials and workers who will be forced to participate in the jamboree outdoors for the next 10 days and camp in fanless tents are seriously threatened."

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