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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Nov. 3)

All News 06:53 November 03, 2020

Opaque changes

A number of Koreans wonder why the Moon Jae-in administration has suddenly changed its existing social distancing guidelines for Covid-19. The new standards are not only difficult to understand but also raise questions about whether health authorities went through sufficient discussions with medical experts and whether a new set of complex guidelines received public consensus before their implementation which starts Saturday.

In Sunday's emergency meeting, the government decided to divide the existing three social distancing levels into five — Level 1, Level 1.5, Level 2, Level 2,5 and Level 3 — based on the weekly average of confirmed cases instead of the previous biweekly average. Diversifying the distancing standards could be necessary. But we wonder what are the grounds for health authorities to set the standards at less than 100 cases for Level 1, at over 300 cases for Level 2 and at more than 800 cases for Level 3.

We are also concerned about the possibility of a maximum five-tiered social distancing level being applied simultaneously depending on local situations. In that case, citizens can suffer lots of inconveniences and disadvantages when they travel or host a business trip in the country. Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo said the government revamped the system to help control the Covid-19 pandemic in a stable way.

Some medical professionals suspect that the government has changed its strategy to minimize fatalities from controlling the spread of the disease. If so, it must seek the understanding and cooperation of the public. Other experts cast suspicion that the government shifted its focus to the economy, as seen in its decision to divide the management of multi-use facilities into two danger levels from the previous three.

The Moon administration is suspected of hurriedly trying to change the distancing standards because of the need to revive the economy. On Oct. 27, the government held a debate with medical experts ahead of the announcement of the new guidelines. However, no doctors with ample experience of dealing with patients participated in the meeting. A senior official from the Korea Medical Association complained about a lack of consultation with the expert group before changes to such important guidelines.

You can hardly win a long war against Covid-19 and achieve economic growth at the same time. In that uphill battle, the government must cooperate with the medical community instead of feuding with it — and draw cooperation from the public. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun must explain why the government took such a turn.
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