A rash easing of social distancingPrime Minister Chung Sye-kyun announced that social distancing in the capital region will be lowered from Level 2.5 to Level 2 from Sept. 14. The decision seems to be a realistic one considering the economic impact on small businesses, in particular, from reinforced social distancing. But we are concerned that the measure may lower overall alertness of the people at a sensitive time before the Chuseok holiday and cause the spreading of Covid-19.
The decision — not aligned with the disease control guideline proposed by the government — contradicts a series of its remarks urging people to join disease control efforts. Many experts who expected a partial easing of Level 2.5 think the decision was unexpected. They say the disease control is inconsistent and lacks principles.
In fact, officials warned that the Covid-19 situation in the capital region is more worrisome than the situation in Daegu and North Gyeongsang at the time of the first outbreak in February and its fast spread in March. I find authorities’ decision unconvincing considering the latest trend of new cases.
When the second wave of Covid-19 began in the capital area, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters implemented Level 2 distancing in the capital region from Aug. 18 and Aug. 23 nationwide. On Aug. 30, the distancing was elevated to Level 2.5 in the capital region. As a result, confirmed cases peaked on Aug. 27 with 441 positive cases and decreased to 300 and then to 200. With 121 confirmed cases on Saturday, the number is still hovering over 100 for more than 10 days. As the standard for Level 2 is 50 to 100 new cases, the current distancing level does not match.
It is not simply about the number of confirmed cases. With dozens of small cluster infections and patients with unknown contraction routes, epidemiological surveys cannot keep up with patients.
The prime minister and the ruling party leader pleaded people to skip hometown visits for Chuseok. Therefore, downgrading the distancing level is inconsistent in many ways. The decision may send the wrong signal when many people are carefully weighing visiting their hometowns or attending their ancestral rites virtually. The headquarters must take accountability for the tremendous consequences of the decision. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KCDA), which was promoted from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sept. 12, must also clarify what opinions it had offered in the course of policy change.