No time for playing politicsKorean health authorities confirmed the fourth case of the coronavirus yesterday, eight days after the first case was reported. In light of the fact that Korea’s Lunar New Year holidays overlapped with China’s Spring Festival and many people traveled between the two countries during that period, Korea’s infection toll might shoot up this week now that Koreans are coming back home. The virus is known to transmit faster between people than the 2015 Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which claimed 36 lives in Korea, which is why the Korean government needs to take strong measures quickly.
Despite the severity of the case, it was not until Monday, the last day of the Lunar New Year holidays, that Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare set up a so-called central disaster management headquarters for the virus outbreak and elevated the national infectious disease alert level from “yellow” to the second-highest “orange” level. Some critics denounced the government for failing to act quickly enough.
China’s National Health Commission said Monday that 2,744 infections have been reported in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan combined, of which 80 proved fatal. A total of 32,799 cases of close contact have been traced by the commission. The Chinese government announced the extension of its Spring Festival holidays for three days, and schools have accordingly been forced to postpone the start of their semester.
What’s more serious is that 5 million people left Wuhan before travel out of the city was restricted. According to Chinese media reports, about 6,430 people traveled from Wuhan to Korea by plane from Dec. 30 to last Wednesday. Dec. 30 is when the first Chinese infection was reported.
Many loopholes were found within Korea’s quarantine system. Among four patients in Korea, two did not show any symptoms of the virus when they first arrived in Korea, and they were not monitored by officials as they began to develop symptoms of the virus in the coming days.
The Korean government is also being criticized for its slow response to protect Korean nationals in Wuhan. It was only when the United States and Japan announced they would send chartered plans to Wuhan to evacuate their citizens that Korean government officials said they, too, would seriously consider that option.
There is no left or right when it comes to tackling a contagious disease. With three months left till the general elections, the government must not play politics.