Letting down our guardThe government has decided to once again suspend operations of public facilities in the capital metropolitan area until June 14 after new coronavirus infections spiked to 79 cases as of 12:00 a.m. Wednesday. The figure far outstrips the benchmark of less than 50 daily cases set by health authorities when the government ended its social distancing program on May 6.
There have been reports of sporadic infections in different locations. A total of 13 infections were reported on Wednesday morning at the Coupang distribution center in Bucheon, Gyeonggi, which has emerged as a new cluster of infections. Secondary infections involving family members of Coupang workers have also been reported.
Since Tuesday, seven people have tested positive for the virus at an office belonging to KB Life Insurance, and even a high school student in Gangseo District, western Seoul, has been infected.
This series of infections forced health authorities to announce they would return to a social distancing campaign if the government cannot stop the spread of infections in the capital throughout the next two weeks.
The shock is particularly great due to the fact that this new cluster of infections was found at an online shopping company. Thanks to online shopping, citizens have been able to reduce face-to-face contacts, and felt no need to make runs on grocery stores for goods.
It was precisely due to these online shopping companies that Korea was hailed as a global model of success in combating the virus.
Health officials stress that there have yet been “no reports of the virus spreading through deliveries” of goods to individual households. But an investigation of the Coupang distribution center found that worker’s hats and shoes contained traces of the virus. Now customers may be forced to worry about whether to cancel goods they have ordered online.
A main reason why the situation has developed so dangerously is because the public’s alertness has flagged throughout the last few weeks. The clusters of infections at nightclubs in Itaewon serve as a primary example. Even after infections spiked, many people still opted not to wear face masks. The situation has become so worrying that pressure is mounting on the government to impose measures to ban people from using public transportation if they do not don face masks.
At restaurants, bars and offices, there were signs of relaxed vigilance towards the threat of contagion. In the case of Coupang, the company has been criticized for failing to alert hundreds of workers through text messages even after the first infection was discovered there.
Health authorities cannot evade responsibility. All they did was put out guidelines for the public, neglecting to follow up on whether the guidelines were being followed.
In Gyeonggi, the provincial government banned Coupang distribution center workers from gathering within the next two weeks. This is effectively a prohibition of business operations. If the daily number of new infections across the country does not drop below 50 within the next two weeks, we will have to return to social distancing.
In the meantime, the public must get serious, while authorities must be more thorough in monitoring whether guidelines are being followed. The war against Covid-19 is a protracted struggle.