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US, UK scouts abandon heatwave-hit South Korean jamboree

American and British scouts pulled out of the World Scout Jamboree in South Korea Saturday citing scorching temperatures, as organizers weighed whether to cut short an event also reportedly plagued by dire campsite conditions.

About 43,000 people have joined the jamboree in North Joella province, but an extreme heatwave has seen hundreds of scouts fall ill, forcing Seoul to deploy military doctors and vow an all-out effort to salvage the event.But despite the government’s promises of air-conditioned buses and freezer trucks, the US contingent said Saturday they would withdraw, following a British decision to exit Friday, citing concerns over the extreme weather and conditions at the site.

The American scouts will go to Camp Humphreys, a US Army garrison in Pyeongtaek, according to US officials.

The World Organization of the Scout Movement has called on South Korea to shorten the event — scheduled to run until August 12 in the coastal town of Buan — pointing to issues caused by one of the country’s hottest summers in years.

The statement added that the South Korean government planned to stick to the schedule, “assuring that they will do everything possible to address the issues caused by the heat wave.”

Representatives from all participating countries are meeting Saturday to decide how to proceed, officials told AFP.

But reports in local media have suggested the event’s issues go beyond the heat, citing poor campsite conditions, with sanitation “less than ideal” including rudimentary showers and toilets, and saying scouts had been plagued by insect bites.

– UK, US withdraw –

Scouts from the United Kingdom — the largest group at around 4,000 — said they had decided to leave to “alleviate pressure on the site.”

“UK Scouts are transferring our young people and adult volunteers from the World Scout Jamboree site to Seoul over the next two days,” it said late Friday.

South Korea this week issued its highest hot weather advisory for the first time in four years.

On Friday, temperatures across the nation ranged from 35 to 38 degrees Celsius (95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit).

The exit of the Jamboree’s biggest national group — as well as the US scouts — amounts to a significant PR setback for the South Korean government, which on Friday called an emergency cabinet meeting and sent air-conditioned buses and freezer trucks to help.

President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office approved 6.9 billion won ($5.3 million) in spending to support the jamboree at the meeting. But the event is facing additional challenges besides the heat. Jeolla authorities on Saturday said about 70 people on the site have come down with Covid-19.

Local media outlets have described the situation as a “national disgrace”, given the time the country had to prepare for the event. Ahead of the event, critics had warned of the risks of gathering such a large number of youth in a treeless region with little shelter from the summer heat.

Some people online have compared the situation to the deadly survival game featured in South Korea’s mega-hit Netflix series “Squid Game”.

“Greetings to Scouts from all around the globe, as you arrive at the K-Survival Game,” one quipped on Twitter, which is being rebranded as X, above an image of pink Squid Game-style costumes.

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