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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 30)

All News 06:58 March 30, 2020

Long fight ahead
There are still loopholes in virus prevention

Despite the government's strengthened "social distancing" measures, the new coronavirus is showing few signs of abating in South Korea. Rather, concerns about a new wave of infections have been rising recently as new COVID-19 clusters have emerged and cases are continuously being reported from among those who have arrived from abroad.

There is no simple answer concerning the question of how long this fight will last. But it is becoming more apparent that the country should expect to fight the outbreak for months, at least, not days or weeks. If it is not possible to overcome the virus in a short period of time, what is important is to keep the rise of infections gradual ― and manageable. The government must brace for the possibility that the duration of the outbreak will be prolonged.

On Saturday, the country reported 146 new COVID-19 infections, the highest number of daily new cases since March 19 when it confirmed 152. On Sunday, the number fell to 105, but this is also relatively high compared to March 23 and 24, which saw 64 and 76 new cases, respectively. Complacency seems to be the biggest enemy in this fight against the new coronavirus.

So it was not desirable at all when the health authorities hailed the country's soaring recovery rate for people infected with the virus as a major accomplishment last week. As of Saturday, the country had released 4,811 fully recovered patients from hospitals ― the first time the number of such people has exceeded the number of quarantined patients since the country reported the outbreak Jan. 20. Health officials described this as a remarkable moment in the country's fight against COVID-19. However, the recovery rate doesn't matter as long as the number of new infections remains high. There should be tougher measures to contain the spread of the virus.

Most of all, there should be tougher punishment against religious groups, medical facilities and individuals who refuse to follow the government's guidance. Last week, seven members of Manmin Central Church in Seoul were infected with the coronavirus. They are suspected of having contracted the virus after attending a service with dozens of other church members two weeks ago. In addition, 13 more patients at a hospital in Daegu were infected with the virus, raising the total number of people infected with COVID-19 there to 75.

The number of imported cases is also nearing 400 out of the 9,583 confirmed cases as of Sunday morning and the government has enforced mandatory virus tests and two-week self-quarantine for all passengers from Europe and the United States. Health officials said Sunday a woman and her mother, living in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, tested positive after travelling to Jeju Island despite showing symptoms. They recently returned home from the U.S., but travelled to Jeju, ignoring the government's recommendation for voluntary isolation for two weeks.

The government has strengthened social distancing through April 5 to contain the spread of the virus, asking people to refrain from activities that entail close contact in enclosed places, such as religious gatherings and indoor sports activities. However, the government should also consider tougher measures against those who refuse to follow the guidelines.

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