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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 3)

All News 06:53 February 03, 2020

Timely entry ban
Top priority is safety, not economic benefits

South Korea appears to be entering a critical phase in its fight against the spread of a new coronavirus that originated in Wuhan in Hubei Province, central China.

On Sunday, the country reported three more cases of the new virus, bringing the total here to 15. The new patients included a 40-year-old Chinese woman who is a family member of a Chinese man diagnosed with the virus here Saturday, and a 43-year-old South Korean man who had been on the watch list since arriving from China, Jan. 20, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given the incubation period of the virus is seven to 14 days and the country reported its first case Jan. 20, more cases of local infection could be forthcoming here in the days ahead ― and probably for weeks.

In this regard, Seoul's decision to bar foreigners who have been in Hubei Province in the past two weeks from entering the country is a step in the right direction. The decision, announced by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, reflects the government's determination to curb the spread of the virus at all costs. This could be painful for the domestic economy, but was unavoidable because the virus shows no signs of abating in China, and is spreading rapidly worldwide. Already, some countries, including the U.S. and Australia, have taken such a measure to limit the damage. According to the government, over 11,000 Chinese entered Korea via flights and ships on Jan. 31 alone.

Considering the poor response by the health authorities and local governments in the initial stages are blamed for the current state in China, South Korea should take all possible pre-emptive measures to limit the spread of the virus. Beijing said the death toll from the new virus increased to 304 as of Sunday morning, up 45 from the previous day, and the total number of cases had reached 14,380, well above the number of those infected with SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which broke out in southern China in 2002 before spreading worldwide. The virus was reported in 26 countries, but all fatalities except for one occurred in China.

South Korea has evacuated its nationals from Wuhan on chartered plans, and placed them in isolated quarantine facilities. But this is not enough. It is time for South Korea to seriously consider temporarily banning flights to and from China as well. As long as cases of person-to-person transmission have been confirmed here among Chinese people who have arrived in Korea, it is necessary for the government to limit their access to Korea, before it is too late. Korea's 12th patient, a Chinese man, arrived in the country Jan. 19, but he did not show any symptoms upon arrival.

What is equally important is for the government to share accurate information on how virus transmissions have occurred in Korea with the public as quickly as possible. One of the major issues over the weekend was a "Corona Map," created by a college student to show where each of the patients in Korea stayed before being diagnosed with the virus. The government should contemplate why this news is drawing a wave of cynical online comments such as, "one student is doing better than the government."

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