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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 16)

All News 07:03 October 16, 2020

Remain vigilant
Fears grow over new wave of infections

The health authorities cannot avoid criticism for hurriedly easing social distancing rules despite fears about a potential resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Four days have passed since the government eased the guidelines, but the coronavirus shows no signs of slowing down.

The number of new daily infections returned to triple digits for three days: 108 on Monday, 102 on Tuesday and 110 on Thursday ― it only stayed below 100 on Wednesday. Many experts had already warned that new cases might spike after the Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 Chuseok holiday when large crowds traveled across the country for family reunions and sightseeing.

However, the authorities paid little attention to such a warning. On Sunday, they lowered the social distancing measures to Level 1 from Level 2 in the three-tier system. The downgrade came too early, considering the 14-day incubation period of the virus. It was inappropriate to relax the rules just seven days after the end of Chuseok. The government should also have factored in the Oct. 9 to 11 Hangeul Day weekend.

More seriously, the authorities should take the blame for breaking its own rules about social distancing. In June, they set the standard for Level 1 as new daily infections being less than 50 and confirmed cases with no traceable infection routes as less than 5 percent of the total caseload.

The government failed to meet the two conditions when it softened the distancing guidelines. Of course, it may argue that the rules can be eased considering not only the severity of the pandemic, but also socioeconomic factors. But the Moon Jae-in administration deserves criticism for putting more focus on socioeconomic conditions than public health risks.

It is understandable that policymakers cannot turn a blind eye to economic difficulties small business owners and the self-employed have been enduring since the outbreak of the pandemic in February. But they have to keep in mind that haste makes waste.

Nothing is more important that people's health and safety. If we cannot protect ourselves from the pandemic, we cannot go back to normal life and enjoy economic prosperity. In other words, the fight against the coronavirus should be the top priority.

Of course it would be best if we could bring COVID-19 under control and stimulate the hard-hit economy at the same time. If we cannot, we should try to strike a balance between battling the virus and boosting the economy. But we should not sacrifice public health for the sake of economic pump-priming.

The government's policy toward social distancing has already lost credibility with the public because it has broken the balance. How can officials defend their handling of the virus when a new infection cluster was found in the southeastern port city of Busan? More than 50 patients and medical staff tested positive for COVID-19 in a geriatric care hospital in the city this week.

Concerns are growing that the pandemic could spread faster as winter approaches. People are increasingly worried about a new wave of the coronavirus and a potential "twindemic" ― a combination of COVID-19 and influenza. Now is not the time for complacency. We should keep vigilant against the pandemic until it dies down, no matter how long it takes.

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