Mature citizens are neededHong Kong University researchers claim that they have developed a vaccine for the deadly coronavirus that has already killed 170 people and infected over 7,000. Whether it can be safe and effective for use can be proven after months of tests on animals and at least a year’s worth of clinical testing on humans. Chinese and U.S. scientists also are rushing to develop a vaccine for the illness.
The best we can do in the meantime is ensure a strict quarantine to prevent the further spread and social unrest. So far, the death rate from the infection hovers at 4 percent, below 9.6 percent from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and 34.5 percent from Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015. Compared to the Ebola virus, whose fatality rate hit 90 percent, the life-threat rate of the novel coronavirus could be deemed quite mild.
But Korean society, which had a traumatic experience with MERS, is on the brink of a breakdown in trust. Day care centers are pressured by parents to ban the entry of Chinese and the children of ethnic Chinese. Some diners have put up “No Chinese” signs on their doors. A petition asking for Chinese people to be banned from entering the country posted on the presidential website drew more than 570,000 signatures. Xenophobia against Chinese is spreading beyond reason.
Some posts online are gruesome. They are full rants against Chinese people and the neighborhoods that they live in. Fake news is going viral.
At times of turmoil, citizenship is essential. The Japanese fought the 2011 mega-earthquake through unity and civilian order. Every citizen should remain calm and use reason. We must endure a little inconvenience as a community. An epidemic should be dealt with with science, not emotions.
The government has not helped. It has been stumbling since Jan. 20, when it confirmed the first case of the Wuhan coronavirus. Insecurity and fear cause more social unrest than the spread of the disease. The government must be reliable in times of crisis.
The city of Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, and the disease control headquarters have differed in identifying the number of people that the fourth patient in Korea came in contact with. The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education announced it would consider delaying the upcoming school semester that begins in March, while the Education Ministry denied the plan. The government announced that it will quarantine Koreans flying in from Wuhan in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, and then changed the locations to Asan, South Chungcheong, and Jincheon, North Chungcheong. It has opened an emergency hotline, but seated a mere 30 people to take the calls, which have reached over 10,000 a day.
If authorities cannot be relied on, citizenship also breaks down. The Blue House must work with the Korea Centers for Disease Control to deal with the crisis in a systematic and consistent manner. The latest epidemic crisis is testing the Korea government and people on a scale that will reflect the nation’s dignity.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 30, Page 30