Crisis mis-managersAfter the number of Koreans infected with the new coronavirus (Covid-19) soared to over 5,000, a shortage of face masks, hospital beds and medical staff continues. But the Moon Jae-in administration’s measures — and capabilities — to deal with such urgent issues are utterly disappointing.
In a weird turn, the government encouraged people to gather at government-run stores to get face masks despite its earlier ban on political and religious rallies to curb the spread of the potentially lethal virus. Such government actions are akin to the social engineering practices implemented by socialist states. On television, an infected man was seen in a long queue in front of a government-run shop in Daegu city to buy face masks though he was supposed to be in self-quarantine. “I could not get masks,” he complained.
In Daegu and North Gyeongsang — where the infections are concentrated — a critical dearth of sickbeds has emerged as a serious problem due to slow reactions from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Interior and Safety and local governments. As a result, an increasing number of patients are dying at home without going to the hospital. Currently, approximately 1,800 people confirmed infected cannot get hospital beds.
Doctors and nurses cannot afford to treat endless lines of patients. They complain of a lack of protective suits and sleep even after Daegu and North Gyeongsang were designated a “special disaster area.”
On Monday, Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin asked President Moon to issue an emergency order. The opposition United Future Party and the Korean Medical Association joined the chorus by calling for an immediate invocation of the law that allows a head of state to secure enough medical facilities and manpower to cope with a national emergency. On Tuesday, Moon declared a “war” against Covid-19 and ordered all government organizations to tackle the crisis on a 24-hour basis. (China declared a war against the virus in January.) Moon must take all possible actions allowed by the law before it’s too late.
On Tuesday, Moon apologized for the shortage of face masks. On the same day, however, his policy chief Kim Sang-jo stirred controversy by stressing the need to reduce the growing demand for masks. When housing prices skyrocketed, the government tried to control the demand for apartments with suffocating regulations rather than increasing supplies. The real estate policy failed. We wonder how the president’s policy chief can make such ridiculous remarks.
The government must squarely face that 12 million masks — Korea’s production capacity per day — are not enough. Public distrust with the government’s ability to deal with the crisis deepens. Moon must not forget his campaign slogan, “We will take responsibility for people’s lives.”