The author is an emeritus professor of journalism at Hanyang University.
The restaurant owner took our call canceling a Friday dinner booking with a dejected and worn-down tone as it had not been a surprise under the most rigid social distancing rules to date in the capital region. Gatherings of more than two people are banned from 6 p.m. for two weeks from Monday. My wife who was calling off the dinner with her mother said she had heard a sigh over the phone. Self-employed stores who live everyday by serving customers are at wit’s end with no sign of end in distancing guidelines. Self-employed businesses cannot understand why they should be the biggest victim in an uphill battle with the coronavirus.
It does not take an expert to understand the Covid-19 mitigation manual — social distancing, wearing masks, treatment for patients, vaccination,s aid for people in distress from the virus outbreak and establishing public trust in quarantine actions and easing public anxieties. After trial and error, the first two have become familiarized through government endeavors and matured citizenship. Medical care also cannot be complained about thanks to devotion of doctors, nurses and test administrators. But vaccinations, relief grants and confidence in quarantine measures remain questionable due to the flip-flops and unreliable policy that only aggravates public scare. This is because the government has failed to play its role well.
Vaccinations are the fundamental defense against the novel coronavirus. But due to failure in early procurement, the vaccine program has been progressing at a snail’s pace and causing confusion in the bookings for jabs. Despite the showy videoconference between President Moon Jae-in and the Moderna CEO to announce delivery of doses sufficient enough to cover 20 million people, Moderna only gave 2 percent of the vaccines it promised to. People are waiting for their time for the shots as if wishing for rain in a never-ending drought. Vaccines will arrive one day, but it is frustrating to endure so long wishfully thinking.
Relief grants are being stalled due to the wrangling over whether to hand out them to all or to all but the richest 20 percent. Political parties are still disputing over their verbal agreement on a universal handout. The people are like the fish choking and flapping deprived of water, and yet lawmakers are arguing about to whom and how much water to give to out of political calculation. We are in a pitiful state, watching the legislature looking at the finger pointing to the moon instead of the moon.
The virus crisis that affects every public lives should not become an issue for political conflict or government propaganda. The government must stop the publicity campaign about a country showing an exemplary case of quarantine and setting the standard for infectious disease. It also must stop the irresponsible tantalizing with the promise of easing social distancing measure and the end of Covid-19.
The virus outbreak wave rose again every time the president publicly expressed confidence about winning the Covid-19 battle — first in February, then in August, then in December last year and the latest since July. The government and president’s perception of ongoing affairs and judgment are raising concerns. If the president had been briefed based on scientific studies and materials, he could not have misjudged every time. The presidential staff also cannot be relied on. The Blue House claims it has experts in every field and decisions are being made by collective intelligence. But someone has to take the responsibility for unsettling society for so long.
Health authority briefs on the development of the Covid-19 crisis every day and the media reports them daily. Still, the people could not access accurate information. The reports are ambiguous, and communication with the people has been lacking. Authorities must tell the people what is certain about vaccine program and what is not.
President Moon promised to communicate with the people and personally answer the questions on important issues. No issue is more important than Covid-19.