Learning from Denmark

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Learning from Denmark

Pai Hyun-joo

The author is a professor of infectious diseases at Hanyang University Medical School.
As the Omicron variant of Covid-19 spreads, the surge is approaching the climax. As seen in Europe and the U.S., where the Omicron started to spread first, more than 100,000 positive cases is expected daily for a while. But if this hurdle is over, vaccination and infection will lead to healthy herd immunity in the community.
As the Omicron variant is weaker than Delta — and most cases are short and pass like a flu — many European countries eased existing Covid-19 disease control measures. Most notably, Denmark announced that it will lift all existing disease control measures because serious cases and deaths from Omicron are very low and because it cannot be prevented.
What make the policy change possible in Denmark? The government took the initiative to transparently release information to doctors and the public, and sufficient discussions have taken place. In short, it was possible because of the mature community.
Then, as the Covid-19 is still ongoing and another pandemic can happen, I cannot help reviewing the disease control policy of the Moon Jae-in administration. I wonder if the government and experts had close discussion and transparent information release in the process of decision-making over the disease control measures — and if there were communications with the public.
As Covid-19 is an infectious disease, patients and doctors should be at the center. However, for past two years from the early stage of the crisis, local community medical systems were rarely used. Korea has a great medical system that even Western developed countries envy. But in the third year of Covid-19, not many local hospital doctors have experiences treating Covid patients.
In the Covid-19 emergency, the government should have utilized the public and private medical resources as much as possible while closely working with doctors. In other countries, local community doctors treated corona patients in isolated spaces or at different times.
If patients were examined to confirm symptoms and treated in the early stage of infection before being isolated, they could have remained in quarantine in a more stable condition psychologically and physically. Of course, when there is no information about Covid-19 at the beginning, everyone, including patients and doctors, naturally felt perplexed and scared.
But soon, many facts about Covid-19 were found, and vaccines and treatments were developed. The government needed to adjust the quarantine-oriented policy goal through close consultation with medical staff. The public should be informed without any omission or addition to give them a chance to make their own decisions.
The discussion process in the community was not smooth. The severity of Covid-19 varies greatly by age group. Half of the deaths in Korea are people over 80, and the average age of death in the Britain is 82. Of course, even a young person with underlying diseases may develop severe case and die.
Many social issues such as business closure, job loss and alienation have made young and older people suffer. Children experience serious learning loss and educational gaps. Has the community ever seriously discussed these generational issues? Now that vaccines and treatments are available, we need a place for discussion to emphasize challenges of all generations and try to turn the society back to normal.
If the government has decided to change the policy to coexisting with Covid-19, information should be transparently released and shared. In the third year of the Covid-19, the government, people and medical staff should have a system to build trust and engage in a mature discussion.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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