Popping champagne corksOptimism is palpable from the Moon Jae-in administration after new infections of the coronavirus (Covid-19) are slowing. We wonder if government officials really want to repeat the same mistakes President Moon made when he said last month that the spread of the lethal virus would come to an end pretty soon. In a nutshell, it is too early to be optimistic about the course of the outbreak. The government must prepare for a time when the number of people infected tops 10,000.
It is fortunate that confirmed cases of infection in Korea declined to less than 300 on a daily basis given the 909 infections reported on Feb. 29. However, ominous signs still exist. Despite a noticeable decrease in infections among followers of the Shincheonji church, small-scale group infections started to occur in small hospitals and nursing homes. As group infections account for approximately 80 percent of the patients, cram schools, noraebang (singing rooms), nightclubs and internet cafes are particularly vulnerable.
The government’s critical failure in supplying face masks to the public bodes ill for the battle against Covid-19. If the central and local governments do not want to repeat the fumbles of the past, they must find enough medical staff and sickbeds to fight the virus.
Nevertheless, the government is busy patting itself on the back. On Sunday, Moon praised Korea for being a “model in fighting the disease” while Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun expressed strong hopes for a “turning point soon.” But the timing is not good.
Such a rush to self-praise is linked to the need for the government to win in the April 15 parliamentary elections. Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo boasted that Korea has emerged as an exemplary case in the war against viruses. How can the health minister make such a comment when 50 Koreans have died already and our confirmed cases of infection rank second or third after China due to the government’s incompetency to deal with the virus in the initial stages?
Does the minister really want to drive a nail into the hearts of mourning families? It would be shameless to pop the champagne even before the battle is over. A doctor-turned-television personality ridiculed the government for “declaring victory citing Korea’s largest number of infection tests in the world even when the country shows the largest number of infections per 10,000.” Covid-19 could become a pandemic, as seen in the more than 110,000 cases of infections around the globe. The virus can re-enter Korea anytime. Every citizen faces an uphill battle. It ain’t over till it’s over.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 10, Page 30