Fight virus not fake newsAbout half of the 722 Koreans in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, were flown back to Korea on Friday. The number of those infected with the virus has reached 7,711 in China.
The government had planned to use four chartered planes to bring them all home, but changed the plan to two. However, in the end, just one aircraft was granted permission to airlift Korean citizens after marathon talks with authorities in Beijing. The plane will return to Wuhan to pick up the rest.
The meager evacuation plan also complicated quarantine measures. Authorities had hoped to keep enough space on the plane between passengers to minimize the risk of infection.
Beijing began to restrict chartered planes as the scene could imply exodus from China. Koreans and other governments were asked to fly chartered planes at night and reduce the number of flights.
Beijing cared more about saving face than the safety of other nationals, but the Seoul government also should be blamed for its sloppy actions. It only moved to evacuate citizens after the United States and Japan took action. We cannot imagine how scared the people left behind must be.
The government has been stumbling in other areas too. It has wavered from choosing locations to quarantine the citizens from Wuhan as well as over the decision to delay the opening of schools. Rumors are prevalent because the government has not been clear about the operations of the evacuation and quarantine of the Koreans coming from Wuhan.
President Moon Jae-in announced strong measures against the spread of fake news. But if the government had been transparent about updating its quarantine measures and other developments, fake news would not have prevailed.
Five years ago, Moon, as the head of the opposition, advised the Park Geun-hye government to concentrate on fighting the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) instead of the outbreak of fake news. The same advice should be given to his government.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 31, Page 30.