A dangerous test for soldiersThe Ministry of National Defense has been considering having servicemen go unmasked while on duty upon the order of President Moon Jae-in. The test of the no-mask rule has been under review without prior consultation and endorsement from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) responsible for Covid-19 quarantine.
The Blue House and government have kept the plan from the public and only admitted to it under pressure from People Power Party Rep. Ha Tae-keung. While being briefed by military commanders on Aug. 4, Moon ordered them to test a no-mask mandate with soldiers since their vaccination rate has exceeded 94 percent, and study the signs of herd immunity and watch their response to variants, including the fatality rate.
The Defense Ministry confirmed that it had asked the KDCA to review the Blue House’s recommendations on “Steps to ease quarantine measures in the barracks” last month. But the agency said that the idea of implementing “Living with Covid-19” in the military had not been discussed by quarantine experts.
Rep. Ha accused the commander in chief of attempting to use servicemen as guinea pigs for quarantine tests. The ministry strongly denied the accusation, but is being bombarded with criticism from parents worrying about their enlisted sons who are exposed to infection risk.
Experts point out that both the presidential order and decision-making process was wrong. If the order was made at the advice of Lee Jin-seok, the doctor-turned presidential secretary for state affairs monitoring, he would be violating the doctor’s ethics code. If Ki Mo-ran, presidential secretary for disease control and prevention, was behind the idea, she let politics prevail over quarantine policy.
Cheon Eun-mi, a pulmonologist at Ewha Womans University hospital, said that the result of a no-mask rule in the military with servicemen’s vaccination rate over 94 percent cannot be applied to society anyway, because vaccinating over 90 percent of the population is practically impossible. “Even if living with Covid-19 is adopted in the private sector, masks should be worn in the military,” she advised.
The Blue House must explain how the order was made. If the policy was really determined solely by advice from aides, it can cause a serious risk to servicemen. The collective infection of the Cheonghae unit on a naval mission in African waters exposed government laxity in tending to the health of servicemen. Some of our soldiers are yet to receive their second shot, four weeks after they received the first Pfizer jab because of a shortage. Instead of experimenting with a no-mask rule, the government must hasten to vaccinate servicemen first.