Where Is the Hole in Korea's Coronavirus Defenses?

      April 01, 2020 13:05

      President Moon Jae-in has called for tougher measures to deal with travelers from overseas spreading coronavirus. "A tiny hole can cause the levee to break," Moon said in a meeting Tuesday as if it had just occurred to him, and told officials to make sure that all arrivals from abroad quarantine themselves for two weeks.

      Unlike some other viruses, COVID-19 can be transmitted by carriers who show no symptoms. The latency period can perhaps last up to a month, and there is no test for antibodies and no solid information of how effective they are. That is why initial quarantine is so essential in combating the virus. But Moon himself left Korea's borders wide open to visitors from China, the source of the virus, in the initial phase of the epidemic. How could someone responsible for creating such a gaping hole possibly hector officials like that.

      Experts like the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases and Korean Medical Association had repeatedly called on the government to restrict the entry of travelers from China, but the government blamed Koreans who returned from China carrying the virus. As the borders remained wide open, confirmed coronavirus cases have reached almost 10,000 and the death toll surpassed 160. The only reason Korea was able to contain the epidemic at this level was thanks to the active participation of the public in maintaining social distancing and other preventive measures plus the sacrifices of medical workers.

      Once Korea starts putting all arrivals from abroad in self-quarantine, their numbers would rise by 7,000 a day, reaching 100,000 in two weeks. That would require a tremendous number of administrative and quarantine personnel. Frontline public servants are already crying out for help, but the government says there is no problem. Among 100,000 people who arrived in Korea over the last two weeks, 10,000-15,000 are apparently foreigners. Why should the country have to strain its medical and financial resources for them?

      The government is in a bind. It does not want to admit its earlier mistake of not banning Chinese visitors altogether for fear of agitating Beijing and pouring cold water on prospects of a visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping. But that means it has to leave the doors wide open to everyone even as Koreans are banned from most countries. Now Japan says it plans to ban visitors from Korea, China and the U.S. The president says, "A single individual must not be allowed to destroy everyone's hard work." Who is that single individual?

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