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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Oct. 13)

Editorials from Korean dailies 06:59 October 13, 2020

What standards?

After nearly nine months have passed since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Korea, the general public is still confused about the standards the Moon Jae-in administration adopted to protect public safety. Its ambiguous rules in an uphill battle against Covid-19 only deepens citizens' distrust and dissatisfaction with the liberal government. It must make clear what standards it is using to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Above all, controversy is being stirred by the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters' decision Sunday to lower the social distancing level to Level 1 from Level 2 starting Monday. It was only last weekend that the health authorities, police and courts were all mobilized to help prevent the spread of the virus — as if they were going to war. In just two days, the government nonchalantly eased the regulations, citing the "accumulated fatigue" and the need to "protect livelihoods of the vulnerable class" as the reason for the decision.

However, there has been no dramatic turnaround in Covid-19 cases. Rather, an average of 59.4 cases took place on a daily basis over the last two weeks, including the Chuseok holidays. That average is far less than 50 — the threshold for lowering the social distancing level — which was set by the headquarters and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency from the beginning. Instead, new cases shot up to 98 on Monday from 58 the previous day. We wonder if we really can trust the health authority's policy judgments.

Medical experts are expressing deep concerns about the danger of an explosive increase in Covid-19 cases. The share of cases that cannot be traced accounts for nearly 20 percent, while the ratio of confirmed cases to all tests has soared to 1.89 percent. Yet, the recent lowering of the distancing level has lifted the ban on a number of leisure facilities, including noraebang (booth-style singing rooms) and clubs.

The Seoul metropolitan government's ban on antigovernment rallies in downtown also contradicts its lifting of the ban on indoor gatherings of over 50 citizens and outdoor gatherings of over 100. The city cannot avoid criticism for its inconsistency. Ahead of the government's lowering of the social distancing level, Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo said he is considering a change in social distancing levels toward the direction of "giving more individual freedom while holding citizens accountable when they violate the rules." His remarks show his sheer ignorance and arrogance toward the people's freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

Liberty is the basic right ensured by the Constitution. The health minister should not have made such a ludicrous comment if he really upholds the values of democracy.
(END)

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