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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on July 28)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:03 July 28, 2022

Time to subsidize the cost for tests

New daily COVID cases exceeded 100,000 again. Given another 100,000 people with symptoms like coughing and high temperatures — yet being reluctant to get a test at a medical center — the situation could be even worse.

A resurgence in infections from the spread of new variants of the virus cannot be avoided. For the public health authorities, they also cannot return to tough social distancing rules as before to help curb the alarming spread. Nevertheless, the government must take responsibility for the dramatic increase in such hidden cases. A considerable number of people continue to live their normal lives after dismissing positive test results from self-test kits.

The dramatic proliferation of hidden cases primarily originates with the change of the free rapid antigen tests to paid ones since April. As a result, citizens have to pay for the tests when they go to hospital. For example, they are required to pay 5,000 won (US$3.8) for the tests if they show symptoms, but must pay up to 70,000 won if they go to a hospital for the tests without symptoms.

To make matters worse, makeshift test centers which offered free PCR tests are critically lacking. The number of such test centers across the country stood at 218 during the peak of infections in February. After the cases subsided, the total fell to 3. But the number of free PCR test centers has started to climb at public health centers after the spread of the Omicron variants. The government plans to increase the number to 70 by the end of July. But the provisional test centers can only be accessed by people aged 60 or older and a people in a few other categories.

Reduction of various types of assistance for patients also contributed to the rapid resurgence. The government tightened the eligibility for a 150,000-won daily subsidy for a family of more than two. The government also stopped covering the cost needed for treatment at home.

As a result, an increasing number of people infected with the virus are concealing their infection while many do not get a test despite suspected symptoms. We cannot but wonder what the administration really meant by "science-based quarantine."

The government blames it on a lack of funds for COVID tests and other support. But if it fails to control the spread now, the country must pay a bigger price later. At the moment, the government must subsidize at least the cost for the tests and treatment. That will help people not to hide their infection and help keep the subvariants from spreading further.

Over the past two and a half years, we learned that COVID-19 sweeps across the country if we lower our guard against the virus. Citizens must take extra care so as not to infect their friends, relatives, colleagues and neighbors again.
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