Striking a balance

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Striking a balance

 New Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon is proposing to tweak social distancing rules in the capital. He has suggested customized hours and curfews by business type and use of fast over-the-counter Covid-19 antigen test kits for potentially virus-risky locations like bars. His reasoning for the relief has some point, but nationwide mitigation could come under risk if Seoul goes a separate way.

There are questions if the current blanket closure at 10 p.m. of eateries, noraebang (singing rooms) and bar locations is really best. Noraebang, billiard rooms and bars have been harder hit than restaurants due to the restricted business hours. The government promises to make up for some of the losses, but how and when remains uncertain. The government shelled out emergency relief several times, but it is not enough to even cover monthly rents. More self-employed will have to shut down if the Covid-19 crisis lengthens. There is no knowing when the situation will come to an end as the vaccine program has been slow due to difficulties in getting supplies.

But the use of fast test kits is an idea the government can review. Mayor Oh proposes to try it out first on customers of noraebang. Many in the cram schools and medical field have called for the use since last fall. The test kits are being used in many countries. Some are made in Korea and shipped overseas as they are not licensed by the local drug authority.

The health ministry and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency disapprove of the use citing a lack of accuracy in the test results. But Choi Jae-wook, a professor of preventive medicine at Korea University, and others believe that the reliability of over-the-counter test kits has greatly improved. Upon testing positive from the self-administered kits, people can visit clinics for accurate tests, helping the overall mitigation campaign. With self-administered kits, the spread could be better contained. The president ordered a review of home test-kits as a supplementary testing option. Achieving accuracy from the kits should come first.

If the hours of bar and night business lengthen, physical contact could increase. Since the daily count hovers above 600, there is a risk in easing social distancing measures. But self-employed businesses cannot be neglected further. The government and Seoul City should consult with experts and come to a reasonable and scientific conclusion, leaving out political differences.

Oh must not rush with his idea as it could look like a populist move. The government must not shun his proposal outright just because he came from the opposition party. Quarantine and self-employed business relief are both important. There cannot be ruling or opposition on the issues of livelihood.
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