No time for politics

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No time for politics

The World Health Organization (WHO) has finally defined the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic, like the Hong Kong flu of 1958 and the swine flu of 2009. The WHO belatedly took the step after the virus had spread to more than 110 countries around the globe with over 120,000 cases of confirmed infection.

In an alarming development for Korea, confirmed infections are taking place in the Seoul metropolitan area after a slowing of infections in Daegu and North Gyeongsang. More than 100 confirmed cases of infection in a call center in Seoul raise serious concerns about the spread of the lethal virus through the public transportation system, including subways and buses.

Choi Jae-wook, a senior official at the Korean Medical Association, said that the infections “were discovered belatedly.” The call center says some of its workers started showing signs of infection from late February.

Epidemiologists have persistently urged the Moon Jae-in administration to do more to disinfect public facilities since last month. Now, the government says it will prepare guidelines to prevent the virus from spreading to high-density workplaces across the country. But such overdue efforts will most likely be too late, as the government’s efforts were in the initial stages of the outbreak. And yet President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday praised the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) for its “successful job.”

Heads of local municipalities are under fire for missing the so-called golden time needed to curb the spread of Covid-19 due to their engrossment with “coronavirus politics.” For instance, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon was focused on filing a criminal complaint against the Shincheonji church’s founder Lee Man-hee with the prosecution. Though the religious sect’s followers who worked at the call center in Seoul tested negative, Mayor Park tried to attribute the infections in the center to the church. Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung went so far as to pressure Lee to go through a test again after he already tested negative.

More than half of our entire population live in the Seoul metropolitan area — a whopping 26 million people. Given such a density, the region is particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases. Yet negative pressure isolation rooms are already occupied by patients infected with the virus. Doctors and nurses are exhausted. If many patients are brought in at once needing medical attention, the metropolitan area will experience the same chaos as in Daegu.

The government must find effective ways to accommodate anyone who falls ill, not to mention swift disinfection of public facilities, including noraebang (singing rooms) and internet cafes, in the metropolitan area. Companies need to ask their employees to work from home. Individuals should minimize their outings. Religious communities and civic groups must refrain from holding services or other mass gatherings.

We recommend Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, who has been staying in Daegu as head of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters, go back and forth between Seoul and Daegu to efficiently tackle the challenges. If the Seoul metropolitan area is paralyzed, the nation can come to a halt.
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