Replace the health ministerThe Moon Jae-in administration declared a “special disaster area” for the entire Daegu metropolitan city and the city of Gyeongsan, as well as Cheongdo and Bonghwa counties in North Gyeongsang. However, despite the number of Covid-19 infections exceeding 8,000 and the death toll surpassing 70, the Blue House and the ruling Democratic Party are busy patting themselves on the back for Korea having emerged as an “exemplary case in the global battle against the disease.” Such self-praise shows a critical lack of responsibility of the government.
At the center of the controversy is Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo. He has repeatedly caused confusion with his frivolous remarks even though he is not an expert in public health. Appearing at the National Assembly last Thursday, he demonstrated his lack of expertise again. He attributed a dearth of protective suits and face masks for medical staff to their “desire to secure as many as possible.”
Korea’s medical community is outraged over the minister’s out-of-touch perceptions. Even a coalition of medical unions under the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions strongly protested his twisted perception of reality. On Friday, a group of medical doctors issued a statement calling for him to immediately step down after taking responsibility for all the chaos.
The minister’s animosity toward the medical community has led some pro-government radical groups to raid the office of the Korean Medical Association and hurl insults at their staff. Park’s improper comments have plenty of precedent. Appearing at the legislature on Feb. 26, he said, “The biggest responsibility [for the rapid spread of the infections] falls on Koreans who came in from China.” He argued for no entry bans on people from China citing advice from the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases. But that was a lie.
In a meeting with President Moon on Feb. 28, opposition leader Hwang Kyo-ahn requested that he sack the health minister. At the time, Moon said, “Let me take another look after our battle against the virus is over.” As Park’s nonsensical remarks continue, however, the public loses patience rapidly.
Over the past two months, people have witnessed how inappropriate reactions from the government can show in an uphill battle against the virus. The government needs to separate health affairs from the Health and Welfare Ministry and ensure independence of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from the ministry to effectively protect the lives of the people.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 16, Page 30