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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 20)

All News 07:15 May 20, 2020

Cooperation on coronavirus
Three Northeast Asian nations should allow visits by 'essential people'

Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo recently proposed that Korea, China and Japan explore ways to expand exchanges of doctors, scientists and businesspeople within the limits of their respective quarantines. The proposal came during a trilateral videophone conference of health ministers last Friday to discuss cooperation in responding to COVID-19.

The three countries currently obligate foreign visitors to undergo 14 days of self-quarantine even if they are on government-related duty. Park called for exempting the mandatory self-isolation if these "essential personnel" tested negative for the virus in duplicated tests.

It may be inevitable to close borders temporarily to control COVID-19, as the world has yet to know the entire picture, let alone develop treatments or vaccines. However, the flip side of such a strict restriction is an economic freeze. Unless nations resume business activities while keeping the coronavirus at a controllable level, the adverse effects of this pandemic will hit the global economy much longer and more severely.

In a recent telephone call, Presidents Moon Jae-in and Xi Jinping agreed that a "quick passage system for businesspeople" between the two countries could be one model for COVID-19 cooperation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also expressed hope that sharing Korean and Chinese experiences would be of great help for Japan in dealing with the pandemic.

However, unlike Korea and China, where the virus spread has slowed, Japan seems to be unsure about its outbreak having passed the peak. That is why Japan's foreign minister recently said Tokyo would gradually move to allow the visits of essential people on the premise of controlling outbreaks within the country.

Governments should be cautious against hasty reopening for economic reasons, leading to a renewed virus spread within the region. However, there are few good reasons they should continue to block the exchanges of businesspeople testing negative through redundant checks, merely out of unfounded concerns.

If the three Northeast Asian countries could resume regional trade, albeit on a limited basis, based on their ability to contain any further spread, it could offer a preemptive cooperative model for the rest of the world, including Europe and North America.

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