Where’s the vaccine czar?

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Where’s the vaccine czar?

Chang Se-jeong

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
 
 
From Monday, gatherings of more than two people are banned after 6 p.m. — a virtual curfew. Accumulated failures in the disease control and vaccine policies of the Moon Jae-in administration have been a disaster for people’s daily lives.
 
There have been inconceivable sufferings since Covid-19 landed in Korea on January 20 last year. But we will suffer pains we’ve never experienced before. Given the Level 4 social distancing rules, human relationships will suffer. The government urges short yet strict two-week distancing, but I doubt if the fourth wave of the pandemic can really be controlled when the Delta variant prevails.
 
Social distancing was first introduced on February 29, 2020. At the height of the third wave on December 23, gatherings of more than four people in the metropolitan region was first banned. As we saw, the shock of the ban was considerable.
 
What has gone so wrong that we are now faced with such stringent distancing rules? The Moon Jae-in administration urged young people in their 20s and 30s to refrain from gatherings, but is it really fair to hold citizens accountable after they endured tough disease control measures that led to totalitarian controversy? I think it’s because of the failure of government policy, eager to self-praise disease control success. Without citing the Heinrich’s Law, which states that a major disaster has small and large signals in advance, there are more than a few factors that led to the virtual curfew.
 
President Moon Jae-in speaks before a meeting to deal with the pandemic at the Blue House in May. Far right in the photo is Ki Mo-ran, presidential secretary for disease control and prevention affairs. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

President Moon Jae-in speaks before a meeting to deal with the pandemic at the Blue House in May. Far right in the photo is Ki Mo-ran, presidential secretary for disease control and prevention affairs. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

The most fundamental issue is that as the number of vaccinated increases, overall awareness on disease control has fallen. Vaccines are not a panacea, but disease control was pushed behind. To dispel distrust on vaccines, the government offered various incentives, including exemption from the mask and two-week quarantine requirement. While it was somewhat inevitable, the basic stance to maintain two-track disease control and vaccination until the end of the pandemic was not kept faithfully.
 
Ideology-based promotion is also considered a factor. President Moon created a new position and appointed Professor Ki Mo-ran of the National Cancer Center as the Blue House Disease Control Planning Officer on April 16. The opposition People Power Party (PPP) said that a position above Jeong Eun-kyeong — who earned public trust as head of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) — was suddenly created.
 
Ki’s father, 88-year-old Ki Se-chun, is the author of “Notes on Juche Idea,” who was jailed for involvement in the case of the Unification Revolution Party, an underground organization attempting to overthrow the South Korean regime and establish a communist regime. Ki’s husband was recruited by the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and earned a nomination in last year’s parliamentary elections for Yangsan-A district in South Gyeongsang Province, where President Moon’s private residence is located.
 
Aside from the political tendencies of her father and the president, she was criticized for suspicious qualification as a medical expert. When Israel and Singapore competed to get vaccines, she claimed that vaccine purchase was not urgent, considering the relatively small number of positive cases in Korea. Probably due to her misguided advice, the Moon administration’s vaccine strategy experienced a catastrophic failure.
 
A greater problem is that she planned and initiated the relaxing of disease control measures. As a professor at the National Cancer Center, she first proposed a plan to narrow the five-level distancing guidelines to four levels and ban gatherings of more than two people under Level 4 at the discussion session on February 9. Primarily based on her proposal, the government announced the relaxed distancing guidelines on June 20, to be implemented from July 1. In the end, Ki’s original plan was accepted, while KDCA chief Jeong’s warning on the Delta variant and opinions to tighten disease control in the capital area was buried.
 
In the course of easing disease control measures, President Moon praised the progress, and Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Hong Nam-ki encouraged use of spending coupons issued by the government. On July 3, when the fourth wave was approaching, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions held an illegal rally of 8,000 people, but the Blue House did not issue a warning before the protest.
 
Jeong and Prime Minister Kim Bu-kyum apologized for Level 4, but Ki and the president remained silent.
 
The devastating policy failure should be remembered, and we must consider who is responsible for the policy failure.
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