Tragedy of errors

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Tragedy of errors

We are dumbfounded over details behind the unprecedented cluster of infections of Covid-19 among sailors of the Cheonghae unit. Some 270 among 301 sailors aboard a Navy destroyer dispatched to waters off eastern Africa for peacekeeping missions tested positive as of Thursday after they were flown back home. An infection rate of more than 90 percent among the crew cannot be found on any warship of any country since the pandemic started early last year.

It turns out that our military and government had been sitting on their hands until February, nearly a year after the outbreak of Covid-19. Except for a surgeon and an anaesthetist, there were no other doctors aboard the ship who could effectively deal with an outbreak. Given the unusual situation originating from Covid-19, our military’s response was laidback to the point of criminally negligent.

What the military delivered to the crew at the last minute were rapid antibody test kits. And in fact, that made the situation on the vessel worse. After a sailor tested negative, the crew was dismissive of the threat, which contributed to the rapid spread of the virus in the tight spaces of the warship. A crew member in the hospital within the ship for hyperthermia had to give way to another member suffering more serious hyperthermia. That lays bare the hellish situation on the ship. More shocking news is that the captain of the ship reported the case to the Defense Minister after more than 100 crew were infected with the virus.

The Blue House’s nonchalance is fueling public outrage. Park Soo-hyun, senior presidential secretary for public communication, said that President Moon Jae-in ordered a transport airplane available for aerial refueling to be sent immediately after he was briefed about the incident. Praising the president for coming up with the idea, Park went on to say, “I am worried whether the president could sleep at night.”

We are speechless at such a ridiculous comment in the face of mounting public outrage. Does he really deserve his title as senior presidential secretary for public communication? That’s not all. The Ministry of National Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff patted themselves on the back for a “shining moment of our military diplomacy” after sailors were safely brought back home.

But we can hardly blame the presidential aid and the military authorities for all aspects of the farce. It all started with the commander in chief. In a Cabinet meeting shortly after a cluster of infections took place in the ship, the president did not reprimand anyone. “Though our military responded somewhat properly, it fell short of people’s expectations,” he said. His remarks suggest a critical dearth of self-retrospection. No one would interpret his comment as an apology or a regret at least. The defense minister ended up apologizing on his behalf.

The infections in the Cheonghae unit could have been prevented if the military had been prepared for contingencies. The episode shames our national prestige. And yet, the Blue House is busy praising itself while the military keeps trumpeting what their commander in chief did after the crisis.
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