By Gawon Bae and Jessie Yeung, CNN
Seoul, South Korea (CNN) — Hundreds of teenage boy and girl scouts have fallen ill at a global event in South Korea as a sweltering heat wave sweeps the country, angering some parents who have called for the 12-day event to be canceled.
Nearly 40,000 participants – mostly middle and high schoolers – have traveled from 155 different countries to attend the event, a week-long festival featuring cultural performances and outdoor activities, according to Kim Hyun-sook, the chairman of the jamboree’s Organizing Committee and the Minister of Gender Equality and Family.
Their visit came as South Korea recorded consistently high temperatures up to 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit), triggering nationwide heat wave warnings and posing a major headache for jamboree organizers.
On Thursday alone, 1,486 people visited the on-site hospital at the World Scout Jamboree, held in Saemangeum, a few hours south of Seoul, according to Kim.
Of the people who visited the hospital, 250 reported skin rashes, 138 had heat-related illness, and 386 had bug bites, Kim added – but none were in a critical condition, said an official from the Jeonbuk Fire Service.
The development prompted the UK Scouts Association to announce that roughly 4,000 UK scouts and volunteers attending the jamboree would leave the event and move to hotels in the capital, Seoul.
“We will start moving our people to hotel accommodation over the next two days. As we are the largest contingent, our hope is that this helps alleviate the pressure on the site overall,” the organization said in a statement Friday.
UK scouts also acknowledged that while the decision may serve as “disappointment for some,” it will endeavour to “continue the Jamboree experience” in the capital of Seoul, working with Korean authorities “on a programme of activities.”
As more children fell ill, worried parents and observers from around the world flooded the event’s social media pages with frantic questions, angry reprimands for organizers, and demands for the event to end – with messages written in various languages.
One commenter wrote that their son had spent the night at the jamboree sleeping on the ground because there were no tents, cots or other gear available. “My wallet paid a hearty price for this chaos,” they wrote.
One writing in Spanish said their daughter was attending the event and had reported there was “no food, no way to protect them from the sun.”
CNN has reached out to jamboree organizers for a response to the parents’ comments.
Photos from the site show participants gathering at a water supply zone to cool themselves off, and resting in shaded areas.
National authorities are also getting involved, with President Yoon Suk Yeol ordering an “unlimited supply” of large air-conditioned buses and refrigerator trucks to the campsite on Monday. He also ordered organizers to improve the quality of food provided and to “immediately resolve” issues occurring from the site, according to the presidential office.
In a news release Friday, event organizers said they were working with the Red Cross to accommodate those with heat-related symptoms. The military is also helping to set up shade shelters, and improving the floors of leafy vine tunnels where participants have been hiding from the heat.
The jamboree is also ramping up its medical staff, pest control personnel, the number of portable toilets and food supplies. The number of cleaning staff – previously just 70 for the entire 40,000-person site – has been increased to more than 500, organizers said.
Kim, the minister and jamboree organizing chairman, said about 130 cooling buses will be deployed to the site on Friday, and an additional 10 refrigerator trucks would be dispatched soon. Each scout will be given five bottles of cold water each day, as well as cooling masks, hats, sunscreen, ice packs and salt pills, she added.
The fire service has been operating the on-site hospital, with about 200 fire department personnel deployed every day to the event site. They’re planning to increase that number for the upcoming culture event day on Sunday when attendance is expected to increase.
Organizers have also adjusted scheduled events, suspending activities requiring “significant physical activities” and replacing them with indoor programs, they said. However, organizers suggested they would not heed public calls to cancel the jamboree, and would “ensure the safe and stable operation of this event until its conclusion.”
The heat wave picked up in late July, with 19 reported deaths from heat-related illnesses since May 20, and 1,520 reporting heat-related illnesses, according to the country’s disease control and prevention agency. The deaths far exceed those over the same period last year, when six people died from heat-related illnesses, the agency said.
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