Truly out of control

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Truly out of control

The Moon Jae-in administration and ruling Democratic Party have once again made controversial remarks about the novel coronavirus outbreak in Korea suggesting a “containment policy” for Daegu and nearby North Gyeongsang. The statement fueled confusion and fear among citizens in the fourth largest city in Korea. Surprisingly, the comments came from the ruling party.

The administration ignored — as many as six times — the Korean Medical Association’s recommendation that it put a ban on the entry of Chinese travelers. Instead, the government considered blockading our own citizens. That raises a serious question about its handling of the crisis. In a belated visit to the virus-stricken city, President Moon said the government did not intend a blockade of a particular region. But he was trying to undo the damage done by his own party’s remarks.

All the problems began with the government’s blase decision to not block travelers from China — the epicenter of the outbreak — from the beginning. Yet the government’s sophistry machine was kept busy, saying there were very few cases of direct infections by Chinese people. It would have been quite different if the government had restricted Chinese visitors and thoroughly quarantined them from the start.

A common denominator between Iran, which had the most cases of deaths from the infection after China, and Italy, which showed the most infections in Europe, is that they did not ban the entry of the Chinese either. The problem with the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama Harbor actually originated with an 80-year-old man from Hong Kong. But Russia, North Korea, Mongolia and Vietnam did not suffer any casualties after shutting their borders with China. The government’s denial of the real culprit is just an excuse for its mistakes.

The government’s one-sided embrace of China has resulted in a rise of anti-Korean sentiment around the world. As of Tuesday, 20 countries either banned or restricted Koreans’ entry. As a result, 17 newly wedded Korean couples were terrified after being isolated in a facility in Mauritius, and hundreds of Koreans visiting Israel had to return home without getting off the airplane. Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised the level of travel advisory for Korea to “Avoid Non-essential Travel” — its highest warning level. Only China and Korea are in the category, whereas Iran and Italy are in Alert Level 2: “Practice Enhanced Precautions.”

We now face a ludicrous situation in which China threatens to restrict Koreans’ entry. The Chinese media is ridiculing Korea for a “slow reaction to a serious crisis.” While struggling to endure the crisis, the government is rubbing salt into the wounds of the people in Daegu and North Gyeongsang. If the government had sympathy with them, it could not have used such harsh rhetoric.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 26, Page 30
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