Mask, mask, mask
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“Soon, we will see which country countered the new coronavirus outbreak successfully and which country did not,” said Lee Nak-yon, former prime minister and the co-chair of the ruling Democratic Party’s general election campaign committee. The ruling party needs to concentrate its efforts on ending the spread of infections, rather than on acting ostentatiously. It is a typical character trait of an immature person — or a person with a sense of inferiority — to compare themselves to others and want to be praised for being relatively better.
The central and local governments’ responses are also unreliable. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon’s criminal complaint against the Shincheonji church for manslaughter is an example. Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae also seemed to be ignorant about laws. She once pressured the prosecution to raid the offices of the religious sect but ended up accepting Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl’s realistic and legitimate proposal that an administrative investigation of the church be conducted first.
In fact, it was Mayor Park who allowed Shincheonji to formally register as a corporation aggregate. Gyeonggi and North Gyeongsang had rejected the religious group’s applications. Park’s predecessor Oh Se-hoon also rejected the application. And yet, Shincheonji was registered as a corporate body only a month after Park’s by-election victory in November 2011. Many suspect that Park is acting overly aggressively against the maverick church to help water down his past.
Park and Choo must have used the people’s loathing for Shincheonji for their personal political gains. Although the religious group should be held accountable for the rapid spread of the disease, infected people are patients, not zombies. We must be watchful of some top politicians’ attempt to treat a particular group of the people as if they are zombies, because it could easily become a modern-day witch hunt. Actually Kim Eo-jun, a pro-government podcaster, started such an initiative. “The outbreak is a Daegu crisis and Shincheonji crisis, [not started from China],” he said.
The Blue House’s plan to supply face masks to the public is no exception. It is intended to act urgently for the contingency, but it took an overly tough approach. It knows the urgency of consumers but does not consider the sensitivity of suppliers.
First, the Blue House made a mistake by treating manufacturers as if they were criminal groups that are cornering the market for profits. That discouraged manufacturers and exacerbated a shortage of supply. According to a reliable source, two public servants from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, one policeman and one official from the National Tax Service, were dispatched to a mask factory in Gyeonggi on Saturday and monitored the production and shipment process all day long. They were there to encourage the workers while preventing them from hiding products.
The factory had 10 workers, but the government sent four officials there. As there are about 130 face mask factories around the country, such tough measures were likely taken at almost all of them. The face mask industry has been exhausted because the factories have been operating 24 hours a day — despite the Moon Jae-in administration’s uniform enforcement of the 52-hour workweek. Instead of monitoring them, the government should have resolved the shortage of raw materials, mobilized soldiers to help production and offered the manufacturers compensation.
EDent — a dental product manufacturer with a 20-year history — said it will stop producing face masks over the weekend, ahead of the government’s introduction of a new purchase restriction system. The Blue House must change the idea of pressuring the industry to meet demand — even without considering manufacturers’ situations. Laws, common sense and the market are the wisest way to fight the outbreak.