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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on April 8)

Health 06:59 April 08, 2021

Confusion reigns

Worries about another wave of infections are deepening after the number of new Covid cases increased to more than 600 on Tuesday. The alarming spread amid a critical dearth of Covid-19 vaccines is pushing Korea into a corner. Regrettably, much of the problem was caused by a government distracted from its battle against the pandemic.

The daily count on March 6 stood at 668, the largest since Jan. 8. More alarmingly, the daily count reached 523.7 on average over the past week, even higher than the threshold for social distancing Level 2.5, which is applied when daily cases reach between 400 and 500. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) has warned of a twofold increase in cases. That hints at the possibility of 1,000 new cases on a daily basis.

The exacerbation of the situation can be attributed to the government's fumbling of the situation. On Tuesday, the KDCA said we have not yet reached a fourth wave. On Wednesday, it changed its words and hurriedly warned of the possibility of a fourth spike in infections.

The health authorities' messages are being criticized for fueling public confusion and encouraging people to lower their guard. On Feb. 15, the government eased social distancing rules to Level 2 from Level 2.5 in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, and to Level 1.5 from Level 2 in other regions even though the daily cases did not meet the requirements for relaxation. The government's rush to ease regulations provoked public rage over the third wave across the country.

On the same day, President Moon Jae-in declared that his administration would "prepare and implement new social distancing rules from March when vaccines start rolling out" and "keep the ban on people's gatherings and business operation hours at the minimum level." In fact, the KDCA on March 5 announced its plan to condense the five-tiered distancing guidelines to four tiers and minimize restrictions on social gatherings and business hours.

A dangerous mix of the government's plan to ease social distancing rules and citizens' hopes for inoculation helped them lose patience quickly, coupled with the cherry blossom season in Korea. In the meantime, the country ranked bottom among OECD member nations in terms of vaccination rates. 1.9 percent of the population has received their first shot.

The government has no other choice but to lift the current distancing level to Level 2.5 in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province. As a result, citizens will experience more inconveniences. The government must apologize for testing the public's patience and secure as many vaccines as possible before it is too late.
(END)

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