Block the virus from coming inEven after the Moon Jae-in administration reinforced “social distancing” measures among the public, the number of new coronavirus infections continues to rise. Despite the government boasting about being a “model in disinfection,” reality shows otherwise. It is too early to lower our guard.
On March 22, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun warned against the act of “hampering the government’s disinfection activities and threatening the safety of communities.” In fact, citizens have been faithfully cooperating with the government not because of their fear of punishment but to protect their families and communities on their own. Nevertheless, the continuous spread of infections in their communities only deepens frustrations.
The continuing spread of the virus is the result of community infections due to the government’s failure to block it in the initial stages — as seen in a dramatic surge of infections among nursing hospitals for the elderly — and from people flying in from foreign countries. The Korean Society of Infectious Diseases has even pleaded for a government ban on the entry of foreigners citing the “burnout of doctors and nurses from an influx of foreigners.”
Many travelers from Europe and the United States — new epicenters of the outbreak — have been confirmed to be infected with the virus. A traveling duo — one British and one German — casually ventured around the country even after they had been infected with the virus. A Korean student and her mother also went on a trip to Jeju shortly after returning home from studying in the United States instead of staying at home in self-quarantine.
Successful disinfection depends on blocking the virus from other countries and preventing community infections at the same time. No matter how strong a public campaign for social distancing is, it is useless without an effort to block the spread from overseas. With the door being left wide open, a country’s quarantines cannot succeed.
Prime Minister Chung announced that the government will enforce self-isolation for all travelers from overseas for two weeks starting April 1. But he should have taken that step a week ago, when he urged citizens to comply with social distancing measures. Besides, the mandatory self-confinement for up to two weeks certainly has limits compared to an all-out entry ban. Even when China strictly banned the entry of all travelers from overseas starting March 28, our Foreign Ministry didn’t do anything except make a verbal complaint in sharp contrast with what it did against Japan.
A government’s reaction without principles only hurts its people. The total number of infections has nearly reached 10,000. The government must take pre-emptive action to block the spread of the virus before it’s too late.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 30, Page 30