Not the time to loosen upOn Friday, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said it will consider lifting some restrictions on people’s public activities as early as this weekend. The announcement is in line with President Moon Jae-in’s remarks on the same day that Korea can turn to allowing people to make their own decisions on prevention if the coronavirus outbreak subsides by Easter on April 12 or the parliamentary elections on April 15. No doubt ordinary citizens want their lives to return to normal. But leaving prevention to the public is only possible when the pandemic ebbs around the globe.
Over 20,000 people have died from the pandemic in the United States since the outbreak in February. Confirmed cases of infection top 520,000 in the United States. The number of patients around the world also increased sharply to 1.72 million Sunday from 1.16 million a week before. The mitigation of infections in Korea only represents a temporary letup — not a full recovery from the outbreak — as Korea is just in the eye of the storm.
The Moon administration must learn lessons from Singapore, which faced a serious crisis after lowering its guard against Covid-19. The city-state pressed ahead with the opening of primary, middle and high schools on March 23 but had to close them in just two weeks after cases of infection increased tenfold. Singapore now enforces strong social distancing, including a ban on using public transit if passengers don’t wear a face mask.
Sweden also changed course from its lax approach to prevention. After cases of infection increased by 100 times in just a month, the government hurriedly banned public meetings and recommended employees to work from home. The Swedish foreign minister had to deny that the government only wants to wait until its people have herd immunity against the virus.
President Moon’s remarks do not help. Instead, they can serve a catalyst for another explosion in the spread of Covid-19. Tourist attractions across the country are already crowded with sightseers hoping to enjoy cherry blossoms.
Medical professionals also warn against leaving prevention to individuals. According to recent research by the National Cancer Center, confirmed cases of infection will reach 40,000 at maximum if social distancing stops. But the number will stop at 27 a day if the current social distancing continues.
As many as 50,000 Koreans are on self-quarantine, and new infections still take place each day. The spread could gain momentum as the weather gets warmer because citizens may not wear face masks. The government must not make a mistake. It is not the time to relax.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 13, Page 30