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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 23)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 06:57 March 23, 2020

Long-term strategy needed
Authorities should take more comprehensive measures

About two months have passed since South Korea reported its first case of the novel coronavirus on Jan. 20. The country still faces an uphill battle to bring COVID-19 under control although the spread of the pandemic here has somewhat slowed. No one can let their guard down against the highly contagious virus.

Now the government and health authorities should map out a new strategy to better cope with the public health crisis. They have so far focused on tracing, isolating and treating members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive Christian sect responsible for massive outbreaks in Daegu. The number of new daily cases has recently declined in the southeastern city.

But new infection clusters have continued to occur ― at a call center, hospitals and Protestant churches in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province. This is raising fears about the further spread of the coronavirus throughout our communities. The country now stands at a crossroads: whether to bring the virus under control soon, or face a long-term battle.

Considering internal and external factors, it is hard to expect a quick end to the health emergency. Thus it is imperative to hammer out long-term measures. Expedient steps and a complacent attitude toward the relentless virus have already proved to be a recipe for failure. We urge the Moon Jae-in administration to take more systematic and comprehensive measures not only to fight the virus, but also to minimize the economic fallout from the epidemic.

Against this backdrop, we positively assess Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun's call for closing religious, indoor sports and entertainment facilities for 15 days. Noting that the next 15 days are critical in the battle with the virus, he recommended Saturday that those facilities stop their operations temporarily. His call stopped short of a ban on mass gatherings and events by the facilities which are vulnerable to infection clusters. But he warned that the authorities may take administrative action against those violating quarantine and disinfection guidelines.

In reality, it is difficult to ban all the activities of such groups, particularly religious ones. Therefore it is important to encourage them to participate in the government's social distancing campaign voluntarily. Every member of our society needs to follow the authorities' guidelines to protect both themselves and others from the pandemic.

For its part, the government is required to take pre-emptive action. President Moon has repeatedly vowed to do so, but is giving the impression that he has put words before action. Moon has been reluctant to impose an entry ban or other restrictive measures on travelers coming from China and other countries. But the government should not hesitate to adopt such measures, if necessary, to prevent the influx of infected people into the country.

In this regard, we welcome the government's move to conduct virus tests on all passengers arriving from Europe and place those even with negative results under a 14-day self-quarantine. The move, starting Sunday, is inevitable as Europe is emerging as the new hotspot for COVID-19. Seoul should also consider taking the same action for the U.S. where the total number of confirmed cases has rapidly surged to more than 15,000.

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