March 20, 2020 12:54
The coronavirus epidemic is spreading like wildfire in Europe. As of Thursday morning, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the region neared 90,000, with over 4,000 dead, more than in China where the outbreak originated. The 27 EU members agreed to ban all visitors from outside it, while a growing number of them are banning their own citizens from traveling abroad. The situation is reminiscent of war.
The epidemic in Europe spells trouble for Korea as well. Just a month ago, there were no infections from visitors entering Korea from Europe, but cases started appearing at the end of February and rose to 24 this week. Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, which succeeded in containing the outbreak within their borders by banning visitors from China, are now seeing infections rise due to their failure to ban travelers from Europe.
The Korean government expanded entry screening to all visitors from abroad on Thursday, but statistics show this will not be enough. Over the last two months, 78 people entered Korea after being infected abroad, but only 16 were identified at the airport when they arrived here. The rest did not show any symptoms and went right through the gates. These are not proper quarantine measures.
Taiwan on Thursday closed its borders completely. But what is Korea doing? The government seems to be worried that closing the borders now might be an admission of its failure to take effective steps in the first place when the epidemic erupted in China.
Tough quarantine is needed now. The number of people coming in from Europe has decreased sharply, but there is no guarantee that those who do come will not turn into superspreaders, to say nothing of the emergence of a mutated and more powerful virus. The government needs to do more than tell visitors from Europe to quarantine themselves for 14 days. Most EU countries ban Koreans now, so Korea should reciprocate. The earlier mistakes must not be repeated.
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