A belated reaction to the spreadSeoul city forced the shutdown of karaoke bars, clubs and other nighttime entertainment establishments across the capital until April 19 after a woman working in a hostess bar tested positive. The belated action has no principle or consistency.
It is wondrous that hostess bars remained unaffected while a majority of people kept to social distancing to contain the spread of the virus, given the woman in question had come into contact with at least 118 customers. People who had risked contagion by venturing into obscure karaoke bar rooms cannot avoid public scorn. But the virus spread cannot be contained if the government continues with the so-called “voluntary mitigation” strategies in which it strengthens or clamps down on a certain establishment only after infection occurs.
The government has delayed school opening and banned religious gatherings and gym activities. It extended the two-week social distancing rule, but left nighttime entertainment establishments such as clubs untouched. It kept people from going to school and work and yet did not prevent them from going to singing bars or dancing clubs. Authorities maintain that they have regularly checked quarantine rules at these facilities. But karaoke rooms and nightclubs cannot keep to distancing rules. The city ordered business suspension only when multiple cases erupted from a hostess bar.
Quarantine actions were so far mostly left up to luck. Fairness also comes into question. Seoul city did not move to contain dancing clubs despite the risk of mass infection, but banned Sunday services at churches even though no cases had been reported.
Such inconsistencies in quarantine administration have led citizens to let down their guard and put more at risk. Despite warning, churches held Easter services and an amusement park has launched a promotion of halving the ticket price to students in uniforms to target students while school opening is being delayed.
The capital could turn into an epicenter if authorities naively have faith in individual practice of citizenship amid a surge in infection cases from people returning from overseas. Authorities should mull a short-term lockdown and community mitigation like the United States and Europe.