With vaccine, with mask

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With vaccine, with mask

 Ahn Tae-hwan
The author is an ENT doctor.



Ahead of the presidential election on March 9, politicians are full of upbeat promises about “Living with the coronavirus.” Citizens are beginning to anticipate the return to normal in their lives. As a member of the community and a medical professional, I cannot share the sanguine outlook as it is more of wishful thinking. Everyone wants to return to the pre-Covid-19 days, but it is premature to let down our collective guard. There is no sign of easing in the spread of new infections around the capital region and elsewhere.
 
The so-called “With Corona” catchphrase is a shift to a system to contain seriously-ill individuals from the infection through an increase in vaccination instead of aiming for a complete eradication of the virus. We would be accepting the novel coronavirus as if it were a seasonal flu and try to avoid falling seriously ill from it through preemptive jabs. The idea has been rising as an option to prevent a chain collapse of the self-employed in Korea, whose share of the economy is larger than in other OECD member nations. No one would oppose the gradual transition to the normalcy in a life with virus risk.
 
Starting with the Britain in August, other countries like Singapore, France, Germany and Denmark are shifting to the living-with-Covid policy. Britain has entirely lifted a lockdown and mask-wearing as well as other universal mitigation mandates. Denmark has also removed a lockdown and social restrictions. It is too early to judge the effect of the measures as the infection rate is still high in the countries.
 
The Moon Jae-in administration suggested it could amend the rigid quarantine strategy if more than 90 percent of senior citizens and 80 percent of adults are fully vaccinated. Action could be discussed from late October as 70 percent of the population could be fully vaccinated. The National Assembly is proposing a special committee to get ready for a post-vaccination era. The government may not be able to put off the transition, as a poll showed that 73.3 percent of the population agree to the shift to “Living with Covid.”
 
The sudden shift worries many. The government plans to ease the move incrementally while maintaining the basic mitigation rule. Instead of using the slogan “Living with Covid,” it advises the phrase “incremental normalization.” Many other countries with high rates of vaccination still demand mask-wearing.
 
Citizens can suddenly let down their guard upon a sudden change of policy. A gradual transition is more a prudent response to the new coronavirus susceptible to variants. Complete return to the post-Covid-19 days cannot be possible, given the emergence of various and powerful variants of the virus.
 
The coronavirus response must be sustainable, acceptable to the broad public, and containable without overly inconveniencing the people. Instead of entirely lifting the mitigation measures, the new program should be everyday-life-friendly. But the concept can mislead the public if politicians try to woo voters.
 
The prerequisite to the shift to a “With Corona” policy must be more hospital beds and medical and quarantine capacity than before. It is a prior duty of the politicians and policy makers. If medical and quarantine capabilities are strengthened, the virus could be of a lesser threat even when infections surge from easing in mitigation measures.
 
The tragic comedy “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett depicts human psychology of pitifully and vainly hanging onto hope. Since the author does not specify who Godot is, it could be the life without Covid-19 in today’s context. While waiting for our Godot, we must be vaccinated and wear our masks.
 
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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