Blue House aide draws fire for football game amid virus restrictions
Choi Jae-sung, a senior presidential aide, faced criticism Monday for participating in a football game despite the elevated social distancing guidelines and the Blue House’s order to cancel all social activities.
Choi, senior presidential secretary for political affairs, attended a Sunday morning gathering of the Samjeon Morning Football Club, a community-based group, and played in a game in Samjeon-dong, Songpa District of southern Seoul.
The district was formerly represented by Choi, a four-term lawmaker who sought re-election in the April legislative elections in Songpa B District, but was defeated by Bae Hyun-jin of the opposition People Power Party (PPP).
Choi has drawn criticism for participating in the social event as the country battles a third wave of Covid-19 infections. Since Nov. 24, the social distancing level in Seoul has been raised to Level 2.
On Sunday, the government elevated the social distancing level around the country outside the capital region to Level 1.5. Although the capital region maintains Level 2 restrictions, additional preventive measures were announced. On Saturday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun held an emergency press conference and appealed to the public to stay home.
Choi's actions were in apparent defiance of the Blue House’s order that all its employees cancel social activities.
“Small social gatherings, events and work dinners emerged as new sources of cluster infections,” Kang Min-seok, the presidential spokesman, said on Nov. 23. “The Ministry of Personnel Management recently announced that public servants will be punished if they are infected from or spread the disease through a social gathering. This measure will also cover to the Blue House.”
The PPP’s first-term lawmakers have been holding a series of rallies outside the Blue House to criticize Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s recent suspension of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. According to the lawmakers, they demanded a meeting with Choi last week, but he refused, citing the elevated social distancing level.
Rep. Her Eun-a of the PPP said in a Monday Facebook post that a group of first-term PPP lawmakers had waited for Choi on Friday to hand over their letter to President Moon Jae-in.
“Choi said he would meet us at 1:30 p.m., but later sent his assistant secretary in the evening to pick up the letter, saying he cannot make contact with the opposition lawmakers to prevent possible Covid-19 infections,” she wrote. “Choi refused to have contact with us because he works in close proximity with the president, treating the lawmakers of the largest opposition party as if we were a source of infection. He, however, attended a gathering in his former district and even played a football game.”
Her added that Choi not only abandoned his duty as a senior political secretary but also acted recklessly as a presidential aide. “Although he is a senior public servant, he ignored the government’s social distancing guidelines,” she said, demanding Choi’s resignation.
Choi issued a brief statement Monday, saying he should have been more careful, since he is a public servant.
The Samjeon Morning Football Club issued a statement on Monday to defend Choi.
It said the players all wore face masks and kept their distance from each other when they rested. The players also didn't dine together after the event, it added.
Choi is known as an enthusiastic football fan, and reportedly played the sport every day when he was serving his third term.
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