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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 16)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:04 November 16, 2020

Go all-out to fight virus
It is urgent to toughen social distancing rules

It will be inevitable for health authorities to take tougher action to control COVID-19 as the pandemic has become resurgent. According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, the number of new daily infections rose to 208 for Saturday from 205 for Friday, bringing the total caseload to 28,546.

It is alarming that the new cases surpassed 200 for two days in a row. It is all the more so, given that the number of virus tests is usually far lower during the weekend than on weekdays. No less serious is that the infections went over triple digits for the eighth straight day. The surge was attributed to infection clusters occurring at public facilities and private gatherings. All this indicates that a third wave of the virus might hit the country this winter after the first one in February and the second one in August.

For this reason, health officials are ready to tighten social distancing rules. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said last week that the government would seriously consider ramping up the current Level 1 social distancing to a higher level, warning against a further spread of the virus. It would be better to enforce tougher rules without delay. Belated action could only aggravate the situation.

On Friday the government started slapping a fine of 100,000 won (US$90) on people refusing to wear masks in public places, including inside subways and on buses. This measure is timely and appropriate because it is feared that a so-called twindemic, a combination of the pandemic and a seasonal flu, could sweep the country this winter.

However, the authorities are under attack for not blocking mass rallies by the nation's largest umbrella union, the progressive Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), in Seoul and other cities Saturday.

The Moon Jae-in administration should have taken bolder measures against the rallies, considering that mass anti-government demonstrations by conservative civic groups in downtown Seoul marking the Aug. 15 National Liberation Day caused 650 new cases. The KCTU, for its part, should have refrained from holding rallies, which could emerge as new inflection clusters.

South Korea has so far been lauded for responding relatively well to COVID-19. But it has also made some mistakes by taking action belatedly or relaxing rules too early. A case in point is a government decision to lower the social distancing level to Level 1, Oct. 12. Officials were criticized for ignoring voices opposing the early relaxation. They gave the impression that they were focused more on an economic stimulus than on people's health. The government should not repeat the mistake. Without containing the pandemic, the country can neither overcome the virus-driven economic woes nor go back to normal.

Striking a balance between fighting the virus and reviving the economy is, of course, important. But policymakers still need to prioritize bringing COVID-19 under control. Otherwise, they risk putting public health and the economy further in harm's way. Therefore, the Moon administration should go all-out to defeat the coronavirus. The people, for their part, should not lower their guard against COVID-19.
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