(LEAD) Saemangeum jamboree fate hangs in balance as U.K., U.S. contingents leave campsite

The fate of the World Scout Jamboree in South Korea was thrust into uncertainty Saturday as the world scout organization called for options to end the event earlier than planned, with British and U.S. contingents opting to pull out from the campsite amid deepening safety concerns from an unabated heat wave.

Despite the Seoul government's vow of "all-out" support, criticism has persisted over the perceived lack of preparation for the event in the Saemangeum reclamation area on the country's southwest coast as a large number of people showed signs of heat-related illnesses and complained of other onsite difficulties.

The representatives from the countries participating in the jamboree event were expected to decide whether to halt, cut short or press ahead with the event, as they met on Saturday morning. Some 43,000 young Scouts from 158 countries joined the event at the campsite.

On Friday night, the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) issued a statement calling for "alternative" measures to resolve issues stemming from scorching temperatures.

"WOSM today asked the Host to consider alternative options to end the event earlier than scheduled and support the participants until they depart for their home countries," it said in the statement.

"The Host decided to go ahead with the event, assuring that they will do everything possible to address the issues caused by the heat wave by adding additional resources," it added.

In line with their pullout decision announced Friday, British Scouts started to depart for Seoul from the Saemangeum site aboard buses Saturday. Some 4,500 British people joined the Jamboree event, becoming the largest contingent in this year's edition.

Some of them complained of insect bites, dirty bathroom conditions and other issues. Still, they plan to remain in Korea and travel back home as originally planned from Aug. 13, according to a statement posted on their website.

U.S. Scouts also followed suit.

Lou Paulsen, a senior official of the U.S. contingent, told Yonhap News Agency that due to the hot weather, U.S. Scouts will move to Camp Humphreys, an American military garrison in Pyeongtaek, 65 kilometers south of Seoul, and plan to stay there through Aug. 11.

Singaporean Scouts also decided to leave Saemangeum earlier than planned, according to the jamboree organizing committee. A total of 67 Singaporean people have reportedly partaken in the event.

Compounding the challenges at the jamboree was the spread of COVID-19.

From July 29 through Friday, a total of 70 virus cases, including five South Koreans, were reported from the Saemangeum campsite, according to the provincial authorities.

The pullout decisions came although President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed the government Friday to provide unlimited air-conditioned buses and refrigerator trucks to protect young participants in the jamboree event and finalized the spending of 6.9 billion won (US$5.3 million) to assist the event.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo also visited the Saemangeum site, pledging to put the central government at the forefront of the efforts to ensure the safety of the Scouts.

Source: Yonhap News Agency