Fixing the levels

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Fixing the levels

 In the face of an alarming spike in new Covid-19 cases, health authorities are being overly passive in their reaction. On Aug. 16, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) upgraded the level of social distancing to Level 2 — the second highest level — across the country starting with Seoul and Gyeonggi. However, those measures failed to control the spread of the virus. As it turned out, 441 new cases were found Wednesday — the biggest increase since March 7, when 483 cases were reported. So far, 8,706 Koreans were infected and 313 have died.

As a result, calls for the social distancing requirements to go to Level 3 are growing, as seen in a demand from 10 groups, including the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases. But the problem is that the requirements for Level 3 are tricky enough to cause confusion.

Current guidelines allow authorities to raise the level of social distancing to Level 3 if over 100 Covid-19 cases appear a day on average for two weeks, the number of cases doubles more than twice in a week and a social consensus is reached. However, lifting the social distancing level to the highest Level 3 is not easy because meeting all three requirements is quite difficult. Another problem is that apparent risks after Level 3 are enforced because all meetings and assemblies — where more than 10 citizens participate — are strictly banned.

Experts point out the need to reduce possible shocks by dividing the current three distancing levels to four to five levels and apply them to each region in a flexible way. The KCDC said it is discussing the matter after taking all possibilities into account. In the meantime, local governments are reacting to the outbreaks in an inventive manner. For instance, the Seoul Metropolitan Government banned citizens from staging all assemblies of more than 10 participants without restricting their use of public facilities, while Gwangju disallowed any religious congregations on its own.

Under such volatile circumstances, a committee dealing with quarantine guidelines held a meeting on Tuesday, but could not reach an agreement. The Moon administration takes a very careful approach when upgrading a level in fear of inevitable economic repercussions. “It is best for the government to closely watch to see if the current Level 2 social distancing is observed well,” said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun.

To avert a second wave of Covid-19 infections, the government needs to diversify the current social distancing levels to effectively cope with challenges without sacrificing economic growth. If it presents clear and reasonable standards, people will follow. The clock is ticking.
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