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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 23)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:18 December 23, 2020

Don't waste time
It is urgent to take pre-emptive action

South Korea stands at a crossroads: to succeed or fail in its response to the resurgent coronavirus pandemic. The health authorities feel a real sense of crisis toward Christmas and the year's end when people usually gather to wine and dine.

That's why the Moon Jae-in administration has decided to ban private gatherings of five or more people from Thursday until Jan. 3 to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19, The ban is inevitable as the country is waging an uphill battle with the virus. The number of daily new infections is still high although it fell to 869 Monday after hitting a record high of 1,097 Saturday.

Medical experts have already warned that the figure could surge further to 1,500 to 2,000 soon. They have urged the authorities to raise their social distancing guidelines to Level 3, the highest under the five-tier system. Disappointingly, however, the government has been dragging its feet on tightening the rules. It is hard to understand why policymakers have wasted time without taking decisive and proper measures against the raging pandemic.

Our editorial board has repeatedly stressed the importance of taking pre-emptive action. However, the Moon administration has repeatedly failed to take appropriate and timely measures. It appears to have already forgotten a painful lesson from the first viral wave which hit the southeastern city of Daegu in February and March.

The authorities cannot deflect criticism that they have employed expedient and belated steps although Korea was once lauded for its quick response to the coronavirus. Its much-touted "test, trace and treat" strategy is now being put to the test as the pandemic has spread widely in communities nationwide.

More problematic is that the government is still refusing to ramp up its social distancing measures to Level 3. It is being too cautious, worrying that the highest level upgrade might have a devastating impact on the economy. If the top-level distancing is in place, more than 2 million restaurants, bars, singing rooms, indoor gyms and other facilities will be closed. Their operators will have to suffer greater pain.

It would be better if we can defeat the virus without tightening social distancing further. Yet, we cannot sit idly by when the third wave of the virus attack is rising high. Delaying the adoption of pre-emptive action will only make matters worse. If we lose the right timing, it will be far more difficult to contain the pandemic.

Reviving the coronavirus-hit economy is important. But in the face of the unprecedented public health crisis, nothing is more urgent than to bring the coronavirus under control. Patients have begun to die waiting for hospitalization due to an acute shortage of intensive care unit beds for the seriously ill; and vaccines will not be available until February or March. The Moon administration should take bolder action before it is too late.
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