Overreaction can be betterThe ravaging spread of Covid-19 in the capital region poses a serious threat to the country. The potential danger could be greater than the outbreak in the city of Daegu and nearby North Gyeongsang in February. Over 26 million or more than half of the population live in or around the capital. The outbreak in Daegu and North Gyeongsang was controllable since the infections had stemmed from the Shincheonji Church cluster. But in Seoul and nearby areas, the infections have been sporadic, stemming from churches to coffee shops.
By now most medical professionals are over-fatigued. Worse, they are ready to join a general strike on Aug. 21. The fatality rate also could soar as churchgoers in the capital are mostly older, unlike Shincheonji followers who were mostly in their 20s and 30s.
The government is partly at fault for the surge in infections. People have let their guard down since the government shifted attention to stimulating the economy after the quarantine alert was downgraded in May amid signs of containment. It gave out food coupons to encourage eating out as if the virus is no longer a threat. President Moon Jae-in even made Aug. 17 a temporary holiday to stimulate consumption through a long weekend.
As a result, the beaches in the coastal city of Busan drew this year’s record crowd of 860,000. The eastern coast and other major tourist sites were no exception. Although the surge in patients was reported from the first day of the long weekend, many went on to enjoy their break since they have already gone on holiday. The wrong signal from the government has led to broad complacency.
President Moon Jae-in on Feb. 13 declared that the coronavirus won’t last long, but the first case in Korea broke out five days later. In May, the government was self-congratulatory about the success in containment. Earlier this month, the government even ordered hospitals to reduce the hospital beds for Covid-19 patients.
Covid-19 will be a long battle. Stronger preemptive actions are necessary to prevent another major outbreak. The elevation of alert levels in the two biggest cities of Seoul and Busan cannot be enough. A government measure banning large groups of more than 50 in a single room will be insufficient as infections mostly come from small clusters. Schools and universities must decide on measures in advance ahead of the fall school opening. When responding to virus threats, an overreaction can be better.