Still adhering to protective gear

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Still adhering to protective gear

The author is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Last week, I was at the checkout counter at a grocery store in downtown D.C., and something was unusual. I noticed that the plexiglass screens at each checkout had been removed. In early 2020, shortly after Covid-19 began to spread, major supermarket chains such as Walmart and Costco installed transparent screens between clerks and customers. While there is still no scientific research indicating that the screen can prevent the spread of the virus, it helped lower anxiety when no one knew much about the virus.

The U.S. federal and major state governments lifted the indoor mask mandate in February and March. In April, the last restrictions by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — the mask requirement on public transportation including airplanes, trains and buses — was abolished by a federal court order. In June, the CDC withdrew the order that required submission of a negative Covid test result when boarding an airplane to the U.S.

The daily lives of Americans are almost back to pre-Covid. On the background of the strategy shift, the CDC explained that though the pandemic was not over, the changes were made so Covid does not significantly interfere with daily life. As Covid-19 has become a part of life, it is time for individuals to decide on their own preventative methods rather than unilateral control of an unspecified majority. Scientific grounds have been presented that vaccination and previous infection have boosted immunity while diversified treatment and preventative measures have lowered the risk of serious conditions and death.

The Korea I experienced upon arriving at Incheon International Airport last week was a different world. The disease control staff armed with ankle-length protective suits and face shields, masks and gloves looked the same as they did at the beginning of the pandemic. To board an airplane to Korea, passengers have to get a Covid test, and a PCR test within one day of arrival is also required. When Japan removes the pre-arrival test requirement next month, Korea will be the only country to require inbound travelers to get tested among the 38 OECD member countries. How would the government explain the contradiction to other countries, as Korea has the greatest number of daily cases at 2,005 per 1 million? U.S. cases are at 277 per 1 million, one-seventh of that of Korea. Germany and France are similar, with 399 and 268. Korea is being isolated like an island in the global pandemic response.
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