Disgruntlement risingCivil servants are fuming after the government ordered them to refrain from having lunch or dinner together, including private meetings, until May 2 even if they abide by social distancing rules to help control the unceasing spread of the coronavirus. The order from the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters translates into a threat to screen government employees through random inspections if they violate the instruction. But nowhere can be found any legal grounds for banning such dining or getting together of public workers.
As a senior government official said, employees at public organizations could be required to bear “some level of inconvenience.” But a number of civil servants are angry at the government’s approach to the pandemic. On December 23, just a day before a government ban on any gatherings of more than five was extended to the national level after daily cases hovered at 1,000, 10 director-level officials in the Ministry of Health and Welfare held a luncheon at a Chinese restaurant in Sejong City. The ministry explained that it was a lunch hosted by outgoing minister Park Neung-hoo to say goodbye to his subordinates, as in the past. But civil servants were surprised at the double standards.
Disgruntlement from police and fire departments testifies to the deepening public distrust. After the government started vaccinations for them Monday, many was perplexed to get their shots much earlier than scheduled. A civil servant sarcastically said, “It feels as if I became a guinea pig” after getting a jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine, referring to the possible blood clotting from the vaccine.
After Police Commissioner General Kim Chang-yong volunteered to get an AstraZeneca shot, police officers and other workers in the National Police Agency cynically wondered, “Is he really thirtysomething?” The military is also under attack for providing a substandard meal to a soldier who has been under quarantine after returning from a vacation. Another soldier in boot camp complained he could not brush teeth or wash his face due to concerns about the spread of the virus.
All the problems could have been prevented if the government had communicated with the public more transparently. Koreans faithfully followed the government’s order to wear face masks and keep social distance in the initial stages of the pandemic. We hope the government considers both inconvenience and possible infringements on human rights. A high government official said the administration has forgotten its obligation to protect the people and their right to the pursuit of happiness. The government must keep that in mind.