[The Fountain] Political quarantine vs. scientific quarantine

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[The Fountain] Political quarantine vs. scientific quarantine

The author is a communications team reporter at JoongAng Holdings.

The first controversy over “politically-motivated” disease control started in August 2020, six months after the outbreak of the pandemic in Korea. The Seoul Metropolitan Government issued an administrative order to ban gatherings, citing concerns about the spread of Covid-19, after a conservative civic group applied for large-scale rallies on Gwanghwamun Square on Aug. 15 Liberation Day.

Some right-wing groups such as the Aug. 15 Promotion Committee, the National Struggle Headquarters against the April 15th Election Fraud, and the Korea Freedom Solidarity, all protested the ban on gathering. They resisted the ban, claiming, “It constitutes a political disease control for the city government to allow concerts in closed spaces yet ban outdoor rallies.” It was shortly after the Moon Jae-in administration had a landslide victory in the April 15 parliamentary elections, dominating the central and local legislative powers. As the discord continued, Kim Chong-in, head of the emergency committee of the United Future Party, now the People Power Party (PPP), joined the criticism and said, “I hope the government stops its political disease control and focuses on battling against Covid-19.”

Over the lifting of the indoor mask mandate, slated for Jan. 30, the Yoon Suk Yeol administration and the governing PPP are now under attack for the political disease control. Opponents of the early lifting of the mask mandate started to attack it for being a premature and populist move. The controversy was fueled by some PPP-affiliated local government heads and lawmakers who advocated the lifting ahead of medical and public health experts.

Then, Jung Ki-suck — a professor of respiratory medicine at Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital and head of an advisory committee to the government on the pandemic — said in an interview on Jan. 20 with the JoongAng Ilbo, “President Yoon Suk-yeol said he would respect medical experts’ opinions during the presidential election. He listens to them indeed. […] Scientific disease control has nothing to do with political disease control,” openly calming the controversy.

“Political disease control,” which has become the antonym of “scientific disease control,” is now frequently used to criticize a government’s disease control policies. Whenever a major decision is made on Covid-19 — such as distancing, mask mandates and vaccination — there are suspicions that political interests are involved. As there is no way the virus spreads based on ideology or political affiliation, it is a pity that disease control directly related to people’s lives becomes a fodder for political battles. People are just as frustrated by the disease control authorities which always reiterates a “scientific basis.”

Of course, disease control cannot be politics, and vice versa. In the age of the Covid-19 endemic, I hope paradoxical terms such as political disease control will disappear. But we must not forget that personal disease control to protect ourselves and those around us becomes more important when our personal freedom is less controlled by mass quarantine measures, including wearing masks and stay-at-home measures.
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