Hiding behind the private sectorOver 70,000 Chinese students are due to arrive in Korea for the new semester opening in March. But the only measure the government has come up with against the potential new influx of the coronavirus from China is recommending that universities defer the beginning of their semesters or advise students to stay indoors. Universities are scurrying to make their own preventive measures. Those with enough dorms are better off. But others are at a loss over where to put the students. Many universities in Seoul cannot find ways to isolate their students.
The Moon Jae-in administration has recommended that local universities keep Chinese students away from schools for two weeks. But there is no way to force them to do so. The Ministry of Education is taking the backseat and dumping the responsibility on universities.
Ambiguity in government actions has only aggravated confusion. The government announced that tests on the infection would be possible in private hospitals. It first gave the number 50, but the actual list had only 38 names. On the first day, only 17 hospitals were equipped with the necessary testing equipment.
The government announced that testing will be available for anyone who is suspected of being infected at 124 clinics across the country. But patients were turned away due to lack of testing kits.
Civilians are getting more anxious due to lax government action. Some of them have created virus maps of their own due to unreliable information from the government. Parents have to seek out information themselves because authorities have not disclosed the names of schools and after-school academies that patients have been to.
Terror and anxiety can build up in the dark. If the government acted transparently, our society would not fall into chaos. It must make a strict and swift decision to allow Chinese people to come to Korea. But the government was slower in restricting people coming from Hubei Province than other countries and also reversed an earlier statement about considering a broader entry ban.
According to media reports in China, 76 cities in 12 provinces have been locked down. About 30 percent of the Chinese population is restricted from moving around as bus terminals and train stations have been closed. The 25th patient in Korea came from Guangdong Province, not Hubei Province. Over 40 percent of confirmed patients have been infected outside Hubei. It is no use enforcing a ban on people from Hubei. The government must take more stern actions to ease public jitters.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 10, Page 30