Time for science-based measures

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Time for science-based measures

 Despite the fast spread of the Omicron variant around the globe, Taiwan has become a model in battling the Covid-19 pandemic. On Wednesday, no daily cases of infection or death were reported. Actually, there was no big difference between the two countries in the third week of May, when 4,360 Koreans and 3,390 Taiwanese were found infected. But now, there is a stark gap between the two. The secret to Taiwan’s success lies in six points — preemptive action, rapid response, transparent health information, smart quarantine, joint public-private defense against Covid-19, and democratic governance.

First of all, the success owes much to the symbiotic quarantine based on the Taiwanese people’s trust in government. Taipei preemptively blocked aerosol transmissions by taking advantage of its strength in ICT. For instance, the government executed its “‘7+7+7” measures (seven days each of isolation in facilities, treatment at home, and self-monitoring at home) by the book. President Tsai Ing-wen’s leadership shone as she could get voluntary cooperation from people without lockdowns.

Japan also overwhelms Korea in fighting the pandemic as seen in steep plunges in daily Covid-19 cases and fatalities. Given the population gap, Korea is much worse than Japan. Yet Tokyo maintains humility and prudence.

In Korea, after President Moon Jae-in praised “K-quarantine” and pressed on with a return to normal lives, the number of daily cases soared followed by an alarming increase in deaths. He promised to prepare up to 10,000 hospital beds, but critically-ill patients should leave ICU beds after 20 days because of a lack of beds.

The self-employed staged a rally on Gwanghwamun Square on Wednesday to protest the government’s draconian distancing rules. Their outcry reflects their deep distrust and outrage over the government’s unscientific approach. If the government really wants to help them stay afloat, the answer is already there — a science-based approach.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) must stop shifting responsibility to ordinary citizens and small merchants by resorting to administrative expediency, a legacy of the past. Uniform application of restrictions on restaurants and cafes — say, banning gatherings of more than four people — is not effective. Is there any scientific grounds for the virus affecting five people instead of four? Even if the number of customers exceeds four, they can lower the risk of infection by sitting with some distance between them or install more effective ventilation systems.

The government must stop stigmatizing the self-employed as potential violators of the distancing rules. Instead, it must convince them to autonomously engage in quarantine at maximum levels. Only when the government quits politically-motivated measures and starts a science-based approach can Korea win an uphill battle against the invisible enemy.
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