Starting anewCHANG CHUNG-HOON
The author is the head of the national 2 teamof the JoongAng Ilbo.
With Covid-19 spreading again, our daily lives are under threat once more. In recent weeks, more than 3,800 new cases have been confirmed. Everyone feels anxious and uncomfortable. But new cases in the capital region started to slow down. This week, we need to work together to keep the curve flat.
In fact, we are not free from responsibility when it comes to the resurgence. The government should practice accountability for its failure and start again. President Moon Jae-in censured some churches and fake news, and the ruling party blamed the opposition party, but they are passing on their responsibility.
The outbreak in August marked a failure of the 100 days of disease control that began in May. In retrospect, the bad move was downgrading the alert for everyday distancing around the long weekend in May.
To boost the economy, professional baseball games, concerts and religious gatherings were allowed. People lowered their guard. But cases were confirmed from people who visited a club in Itaewon, and everyday distancing became useless.
The government missed several chances to tighten disease control. In July, 20 to 100 cases were confirmed daily. It was serious because many of them had an unknown infection route. Some disease control experts advocated a need for second-level social distancing. But the government didn’t listen. Instead, small church gatherings were allowed, and discount coupons for dining, concerts and lodging were issued. A temporary holiday was even announced. People lowered their guard and loosened up during the summer vacation season.
The government’s position is understandable. It is a fact that the Korean economy was ruined in the first half of the year. Business profits decreased by 25 trillion won ($21 billion) compared to last year, a 34 percent reduction for Kospi-listed companies. At least 1 million jobs were lost between March and June, according to the Korea Employment Information Service.
In the meantime, tax revenue decreased by 34 trillion won, and state financing had a 110 trillion won in deficit. The Bank of Korea (BOK) began to mention negative growth. The government pushed to revive the economy.
But it became clear that disease control comes before the economy. The government must acknowledge that its attempt to save the economy worsened the situation. It is narrow-minded to threaten citizens by mentioning restrictions on freedom of religion, assembly and speech as Covid-19 is aggravated. The government is denying its raison d’être if it divides people into friends and foes. A responsible government must embrace the protests and deviation of churches. The economy can be protected only when disease control succeeds.