Bracing for an emergency
On Tuesday, the government lifted the requirement to show vaccine passes at department stores, large supermarkets, movie theaters and cram schools across the country after the Seoul Administrative Court put the brakes on them, citing excessive restrictions on people’s rights. Amid a court battle from the executive branch’s strict approach to control the spread of the coronavirus, the Omicron variant rapidly spread. In Gwangju, the new variant accounts for a whopping 80 percent of all cases in the city. Medical professionals expect the share to increase to over 50 percent in Korea by this weekend.
Particularly alarming is the citation by Health Minister Kwon Duk-chul of a projection that daily cases could soar to 20,000 and critically-ill patients to 2,000 in March. The minister presented “diverse ways” to deal with the spikes, including allowing neighborhood hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients. But people have lost trust in the government. Before implementing its “Living with Covid-19” campaign last November, President Moon Jae-in said the government was thoroughly prepared to deal with 10,000 daily cases. But health authorities were at a loss after 50,000 daily cases were reported. Due to a critical lack of ICU beds at the time, many lost their lives without going to the hospital.
The government must be fully prepared for the possibility of 20,000 daily cases. Given the five-day Lunar New Year holiday starting from January 29, it must hurry to find effective ways to control the spread. If hospitals that did not deal with Covid-19 patients are to treat them — including conducting a PCR test or rapid antigen test — that demands a drastic change in our medical system. For instance, rules must be set for distinguishing Covid-19 patients from general patients. The government must brace for a lack of doctors and nurses. If the government fails to prepare in advance, a tragedy can occur.
The government must change its pick-and-choose attitude toward science. Despite medical experts and the media’s persistent opposition to the unilateral application of the vaccine pass system, the administration pressed on with it. After the court ordered a suspension, the government threatened to appeal to a higher court. If it still has time to file a suit, it had better persuade unvaccinated people to get inoculated.
If the administration blindly sticks with a regulation-based approach, it can hardly win an uphill battle against the invisible monster. If the government still has time to concoct one regulation after another, it must go to medical institutions in the field immediately and listen to their advice directly. That will help the administration earn support from the public.