The dike has broken

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The dike has broken


An Hye-ri
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

President Moon Jae-in said on Feb. 13 that the coronavirus outbreak would end soon, but for some reason, over a hundred more people have been diagnosed since then.

Fear is spreading indiscriminately, as a patient who did not visit China and did not have external contact due to long-term hospitalization at a closed psychiatric ward, as well as patients with unknown infection routes, were confirmed nationwide.

In Daegu, where many patients were diagnosed, a taxi driver is afraid to accept customers and a pharmacist complained that the mood changed overnight as if a war broke out, with dozens of thermometers selling out.

When people are faced with the new development of a sudden rise of diagnoses and are too panicked to go on with their lives, I cannot feel a sense of crisis from the responses of the Blue House and the government. It is strangely laid back. I am not talking about the Democratic Party Chairman Lee Hae-chan, who praised himself, or Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, who oversees immigration control, and who appeared on a TBS radio show hosted by government-approved Kim Eo-jun and imprudently said how the international community had high regard for Korea’s control over the infectious disease. I am talking about the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which is overseeing the virus outbreak, and the Blue House.

On the night of Feb. 19, right after dozens of patients were confirmed, Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said in an interview with KBS that he had “in fact,” predicted that spread in the community would happen and that the ministry was not flustered because it was expected.

I couldn’t believe my ears. The ministry had expected it but let the people suffer from the fear of infection by ignoring the opinions of the expert groups, such as a ban on Chinese citizen’s entry by the Korea Medical Association, and did not restrict the entry and activities of Chinese people?


Medical workers wearing protective gear move a patient suspected of being infected with the coronavirus from an ambulance to the Kyungpook National University Hospital in Daegu on Wednesday, after a score of new cases were confirmed in Daegu. [YONHAP]

My questions do not stop here. Four days after President Moon mentioned the “end,” the media, asking for caution, were considered liars creating unnecessary fear, by saying that some media exaggerated fear and anxiety and discouraged economic and consumer psychology. Other ministries responded with slack measures. While some experts warned that big events should be postponed to prevent group infection, Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki said that people should continue using restaurants to help their business. When some expert groups raised concerns that someone was making a false report to the Blue House, saying that the disease is very infectious and would not end for a long time, the government did not pretend to listen. But “in fact,” they knew?

If Health Minister Park did not lie to the media, the government knew that the coronavirus would not end as soon as the president said, but would spread instead, and nevertheless drove people toward the threat. As a result, the Blue House and ministries deceived the people. If such a comment was made in the Park Geun-hye administration, people would fill the Seoul City Hall plaza wearing gas masks.

As the development is something that cannot happen in a government concerned about the people, some are joking that the people did not properly understand President Moon’s Gyeongsang accent and mistook “spread” as “end.”

I think President Moon never doubted the “spreading” of the coronavirus for a moment. When only a few patients were diagnosed, the Blue House thoroughly disinfected its buildings when people were struggling to buy masks and hand sanitizer.

Now, I understand. The President, the First Lady and the Blue House staff are not anxious because of the thorough disinfection, so they invited Director Bong Joon-ho and the “Parasite” team for a luncheon. After President Moon’s seven-minute welcoming remarks, Director Bong said he was shocked as a writer for his perfect choices of words and clear organization. While the president and the cast of “Parasite” had a quiz on character names, some people were shocked for a different reason.

The Blue House said on Jan. 31 that the World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency, and the president’s schedule would be adjusted accordingly. The meeting with the “Parasite” team must have been so urgent.
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