No lessons learnedFacial masks have become hard to find, aggravating public jitters amid the spread of the coronavirus and the rising fatality rate in China. Mask sections have become empty at grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores and even in online shopping malls. Local and Chinese merchants have made bulk purchases, worsening the supply shortage amid increasing demand.
After stocking up on masks, some have begun to resell them at a maximum of 10 times the original price. Masks have become unreachable for the average person. Some have become disgruntled with the government for trying to donate 1.5 million masks to China. Free giveaways available at subway stations were immediately emptied as early birds snatched them away in bunches. Hand sanitizers have even had to be chained down at subway stations to stop passengers from stealing them away.
The government belatedly declared that anyone stocking up on masks for resale would face a maximum of two years in jail or a fine of 50 million won ($41,900). It also vowed to bump up output. Masks are the first things to run short in times of an epidemic. Korea has weathered epidemics in 2003, 2009 and 2015. Yet authorities have learned little. They have not prepared enough self-hygiene supplies.
During the outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Korea compensated for the losses through importing masks from China. But Chinese tourists are quickly gobbling up masks in Korea, stoking local concerns.
Facial masks and hand sanitizers are a minimum protection for the public. If they run short, fewer people will go outside and our economy will be hit hard.
The law on emergency reserve requires necessary readiness in human and other supplies at times of disaster and war. The law should be revised so that masks and other necessities can be stocked by the government to brace for outbreaks of infectious diseases. To ensure that the horse does not run away, the stable door should be fixed and toughened.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 4, Page 30