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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 13)

All News 07:09 February 13, 2020

What is government for?
Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo show different responses to virus

South Korea appears to have been doing a relatively good job so far in curbing the spread of the new coronavirus, looking at what is happening in China and Japan.

Emergency measures the government has taken since the first case was reported here Jan. 20 centered on tracing and monitoring people who had possibly been infected, and enforcing the temporary closure of places visited by confirmed patients, as well as providing adequate treatment in isolation to patients and those who showed symptoms. It was quick to prepare quarantine facilities for hundreds of South Korean nationals evacuated from Wuhan in central China, the epicenter of the virus outbreak. Their condition is being closely monitored by medical staff.

The number of confirmed cases here has remained unchanged from the previous day at 28, Wednesday, while seven of these have been discharged from hospital after a full recovery. There have been no fatalities. Thankfully, the country's situation appears to have stabilized, and this wouldn't have been possible without the administration's quick and calm response. Our government ― and President Moon Jae-in who has led this fight against the virus ― deserve praise for that.

There have indeed been some problems, mistakes and disputes in the process of combating the virus, but, generally speaking, the nation's disease-control system is now working quite well. This is probably because the government learned a lesson from the collective failure of those in responsible positions to respond to the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014, which resulted in the deaths of 304 people ― and ultimately became a major factor for the ouster of President Park Geun-hye a couple of years later.

Even though some political attempts are evident here to fan public fears and portray the government as being incapable or incompetent ― which may be associated with the crucial April 15 general election ― it is not like the public criticism directed toward the governments of China and Japan. Chinese President Xi Jinping was reported Monday to have visited some public places in Beijing in an apparent attempt to stifle criticism of the authorities' handling of the crisis. This was actually the first media report on Xi's virus-related activity since the outbreak, and with the death toll having already surpassed 1,000 and confirmed cases having exceeded 40,000. It is not hard to imagine what would happen if a South Korean president had behaved in this manner.

In Japan, the Shinzo Abe administration is also blamed for the poor handling of a cruise ship, locked down for over a week since a passenger was confirmed to be infected with the virus. Some 3,700 passengers and crew are aboard the Diamond Princess, and the number of infections there has surged to 174. The government implemented a lockdown to block possible spread of the virus, but as a result, the measure made the cruise ship the largest infection center outside China. It is not strange that many Japanese are now raising questions about the government's capacity to cope with the virus.

One big question pops up as we see what is occurring in China and Japan. What is government for?

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