Priority on quarantines

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Priority on quarantines

The Moon Jae-in administration is still fumbling over the fast spread of the new coronavirus, named Covid-19 by the World Health Organization. After the number of people infected with the potentially lethal virus exceeded 3,500 on Sunday, the number of infections per one million people is more than that in China. Given our relatively superior public health systems, we are deeply embarrassed to see this unexpected development.

The infections from Covid-19 seemed to subside, albeit moderately, one month after the outbreak in Korea. Yet we don’t know where the government’s repeated mistakes will lead. After declaring a war on the virus following the containment of Wuhan, Hubei Province — the epicenter of the outbreak — on Jan. 23, China created a thousand makeshift beds after renovating a gymnasium in the city, a concept borrowed from U.S. forces’ field wards made of containers. China seems to have succeeded in slowing the pace of infections.

In Daegu, with more than 2,000 cases, over 1,300 people confirmed infected have to wait until hospital beds are assigned to them. It is time for the government to quarantine them in public facilities, as it did for Korean nationals flown in from Hubei. A sophisticated training camp for Daegu Bank with 300 rooms, where North Korean cheerleaders stayed during the 2003 Daegu Summer Asiad, can offer such space for local patients desperately waiting for hospital beds.

Other local municipalities including Seoul and Gyeonggi are still vulnerable to the infection and must take pre-emptive measures to prepare for a lack of sickbeds before it is too late. Local governments should implement emergency acts allowing them to use public facilities at times of national need.

While raising the level of danger to “serious” from “caution” on Feb. 23, President Moon said, “A few days from now will be a critical period.” But systematic reactions by local governments can hardly be seen on the field. Even face masks are in short supply as seen in long queues at stores. The government must create a rapid reaction team comprised of competent civil servants from each ministry.

Foreign countries are increasingly barring Koreans from entering. Even foreign companies and students here are showing signs of an exodus from Korea as a result of the government’s reaction to the crisis. We don’t know Covid-19 fully. This virus may not disappear as the temperature goes up. The only solution is a thorough quarantine on the individual and government levels.
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