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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 1)

All News 09:54 February 01, 2020

Danger of local infection
:Take emergency measures against spreading viral epidemic

Fears of the further spread of the new coronavirus are escalating after four cases of person-to-person transmission of the virus were reported here. These local infections are leading people to question the country's quick response system for the epidemic that originated in Wuhan, the capital of China's central Hubei Province.

The number of confirmed cases of infection increased to 11 Friday when four new patients were diagnosed with the virus, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). The 11 patients break down to one Chinese female and 10 Koreans.

On Thursday, the sixth patient, 55, was reported to be the country's first case of person-to-person transmission. He contracted the virus after meeting with the third patient, a Korean man who returned home last week after visiting Wuhan. On Friday, two of his family members tested positive for the pneumonia-like illness, increasing the number of local infections to four.

The four cases indicate that the country's monitoring and quarantine system might not have worked properly to prevent the virus from infecting local residents. That is why critics have accused the authorities of having a poor response to the outbreak.

The authorities should have monitored the third patient, 54, more closely. He went to a hotel, cafes, restaurants and a plastic surgery clinic mostly in the busy district of Gangnam, southern Seoul, and Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, after arriving from Wuhan, Jan. 20. He was put in quarantine Jan. 25 and diagnosed with the coronavirus the next day. He had a meal with the sixth patient, lasting about 90 minutes.

The KCDC should have classified the sixth patient as a "person in close contact" with the third patient and quarantined him earlier. But its failure to do so allowed him to come into contact with many people without any restriction, heightening the danger of passing on the virus to other Koreans who have no recent history of visiting China. The danger has already become a reality as two of his family members have also come down with the virus.

It seems inevitable for the number of confirmed cases to rise further. On Friday, the government brought 368 Korans back home from Wuhan on a charter flight. An additional 350 will be evacuated today. The authorities should strictly enforce a quarantine for those returnees for 14 days as planned. They must go the extra mile because the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency over the coronavirus. As of Friday, the death toll from the epidemic had climbed to 231 with confirmed cases surging to nearly 10,000 worldwide.

The authorities here need to take pre-emptive, emergency measures to contain the virus. They should enforce such measures with consistency and coherence in order to avoid any confusion among difference government agencies. Most of all, the Moon Jae-in administration must establish a "control tower" to better manage the emergency situation. It cannot win the fight without a much stricter quarantine system. People's active participation is also crucial.

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