People’s power

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People’s power

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Kim Dong-ho

Three impressive scenes stand out during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. One is Samsung Electronics helping out small enterprises make face masks. Samsung sent 10 experts to Hwajin Tech based in Jangseong, South Jeolla. After tutoring from the electronics behemoth, the mask producer was able to double its output and reduce its defects rate. Manpower and machines were rearranged to maximize output speed after computer simulation runs. Hyundai Motor, Kolon Industries and Toray Industries voluntarily converted some of their production lines to manufacture face masks and filters to help ease a mask shortage.

The second is Korean diagnostic kits that wowed the world. President Moon Jae-in visited the lab of Seegene, a Korean biotech company, after U.S. President Donald Trump called him up for supplies. Other test-kit makers like Kogene Biotech, SolGent and SD Bio Sensor also were present at the site. They are bombarded with orders from all over the world. Korea suddenly has become a powerhouse in medical equipment and quarantine expertise through the outbreak of Covid-19.

The third wonder is our devoted medical professionals — doctors, nurses and pharmacists — who have contributed to the newfound recognition of K-medical power. Hundreds of them rushed to Daegu when it became an epicenter of the lethal virus. They worked day and night in sweaty protection gear. Thanks to them, Daegu combated the epidemic and emerged as an exemplary case in defeating the coronavirus. Commitment by medical volunteers was behind their triumph.

While Korea fought its way out of the deadly battle, the virus ravaged the United States and Europe. The infections led to community and factory lockdowns across the continents. Korea was shunned by the world in the first stages of the outbreak. Now it is an object of admiration. After critical stumbles in the early stage, the Moon Jae-in administration began to gloat in the spotlight.

테스트

Medical staff at the Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Center are headed to negative pressure isolation rooms in the morning of April 3 to treat patients infected with the coronavirus. [YONHAP]

The government floundered in the face of an unfamiliar intruder. Expectations that it at least would cope better with public health and safety than its poor handling of the economy, foreign and security affairs were dashed. Its biggest mistake was to leave the borders open to Chinese. Korea soon was home to the biggest spread of the virus after China. Korea, which had some of the most visa-waiver arrangements in the world, suddenly lost face. Over 180 countries banned or restricted entry by Korean nationals. The number of infections continued to mount and many lives were cut short.

The damages were lessened thanks to the strong medical and industrial fundamentals built from the Park Chung Hee industrialization era. Without such a pivotal build-up, Korea could have never achieved such a turnaround. Korea has suddenly become popular. Government heads have turned to Moon to learn tips on quarantine. The United States and Japan are still struggling with deficiencies in hospital beds, ventilators and protective gear. Meanwhile, Korea was able to redeem its national dignity all thanks to Korean medical power.

The latest developments once again manifest the true power behind Korea — its people and expertise built up over the years. Government responses also have advanced. In a recent G-20 summit, Moon proposed cross-border exchanges of scientists, doctors and businessmen within the acceptability of quarantine rules of each country. Despite its wobbly start, the government is exercising leadership backed by attentive administration and civilian power.

But credit must be given where it is due. The government has its people entirely to thank for upholding national dignity. It has gotten better, but still lacks connections with reality. Although it has promised colossal funding, the money has not yet reached merchants and the self-employed, whose livelihoods are at risk because they were turned away by lenders. The government can wait to congratulate itself until it tends to economic imperatives.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 22, Page 30
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