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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Dec. 24)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:29 December 24, 2020

Stop passing the buck
Cheong Wa Dae discloses Moon's vaccine instructions to skirt criticism

Cheong Wa Dae on Tuesday disclosed 13 occasions on which President Moon Jae-in made instructions to secure COVID-19 vaccines.

It was a response to some news reports that Moon rebuked his aides over the government's failure to secure vaccines. Cheong Wa Dae did not confirm the reports, citing a closed-door meeting, but did not deny them either.

Moon reportedly told his aides to the effect that he had repeated instructions over and over to secure vaccines, but they had done little until facing the current situation.

The disclosure suggests that Moon had issued instructions 13 times, but that bureaucrats didn't act. Moon effectively said "I did my job but they didn't."

Moon's first instruction came at a meeting on April 9 where he said "I will support corporate and academic efforts to develop vaccines and medicines." On July 21, he instructed his aides to ensure SK Bioscience will supply a sufficient amount of vaccines to AstraZeneca as its contract manufacturer. It is hard to view these remarks as an instruction to secure vaccines for Korea.

His instruction to secure vaccines from global drugmakers first came at an internal Cheong Wa Dae meeting on Sept. 15. He made obvious and strong instructions to aides on Nov. 30. But November was too late. The global competition for vaccines was all but over.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun confessed Sunday that the government did not think of raising dependence on vaccines in July when it launched its vaccine task force because as few as about 100 people were infected at that time. Chung's remarks show the government's easygoing perception of the situation, whereas other countries worked hard to secure vaccines. Chung sounds honest on the government's failure to secure vaccines.

A former head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized the importance of securing vaccines during Cheong Wa Dae meetings attended by Moon in February and June. Recently, he told a newspaper that some aides changed topics when he pointed out many questions in the June meeting. Also in the meeting, Moon reportedly worried about the possible spread of the virus in and around Seoul but did not mention vaccines.

Japan has reportedly secured vaccines sufficiently to inoculate more than its population and expects to begin vaccinations in late February. It would not have been impossible for Korea to secure vaccines as other countries did. But it missed the timing. This demonstrates a lack of competence on the part of the Moon administration. If the president issued instructions, it does not mean he fulfilled his duty.

From October to December, the Korean Culture and Information Service under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism spent 800 million won ($720,000) publicizing Korea's response to COVID-19 in Southeast Asia and Europe.

It is absurd to promote the government's responses such as drive-thru testing when about 30 other countries were preparing to start inoculations while Korea was falling into a dire situation of infections resurging and sickbeds running short with no vaccines secured.

Moon said on Dec. 9, "Finally the end of a long tunnel has come into sight thanks to vaccines and medicines." Three days later, infections spiked. His grasp of the situation is to be doubted.

Britain and the US have already begun to vaccinate their people and other countries will soon follow suit. The government said it signed a preorder contract only with AstraZeneca, but phase 3 clinical trials for that vaccine have not finished yet. So people ask the government what it has done thus far. To this, Moon answered: "I instructed over and over." And Cheong Wa Dae tells conservative news media and the opposition party to stop making a political issue of the failure to secure vaccines.

"The opposition party fosters public anxiety and fright. Such behavior disturbs the government's fight against the epidemic, multiplies the crisis and undermines the livelihood of the people," said Rep. Lee Nak-yon, leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea. They shift blame to the opposition party.

If Moon and his administration failed to secure vaccines, they would do well to apologize and tell people honestly about when they will be able to vaccinate people. Securing COVID-19 vaccines was a top priority task for leaders in almost all countries. They should stop passing the buck to bureaucrats, news media and the opposition party.
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