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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 9)

06:58 April 09, 2020

Emerging threats
New measures are needed for new challenges

The government faces fresh challenges in its response to the COVID-19 outbreak as the spread of the new coronavirus has shown signs of slowing here recently.

While the government has implemented rigorous "social distancing" measures for citizens and strengthened restrictions for travelers, violations of the self-quarantine rules have been increasingly reported. In addition, an increasing number of patients who left quarantine after being diagnosed as having fully recovered are testing positive for COVID-19 a second time, especially in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, the hardest-hit regions.

These emerging threats are making it harder for the health authorities to contain the spread of the new virus. A new approach in coping with the crisis is definitely needed.

In particular, the self-quarantine rules become useless as long as they are violated secretly, as seen in the case of a male singer who reportedly spread the virus to a female "room salon" worker in Gangnam, southern Seoul. It is time to seriously consider more stringent measures to track those who have been placed under quarantine order.

According to the authorities, K-pop band Supernova's lead singer Yoon Hak, 35, went to meet with the woman after returning from Japan last month although he had been placed under the two-week self-isolation order. Yoon later developed symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19. The woman also tested positive, and she was found to have transmitted the virus to her roommate who also worked in the adult entertainment establishment.

Given there are some 100 women working at the room salon, and hundreds of men visited the place daily, concerns are growing that it may become a new infection cluster. The place has been closed, and over 100 people who came into contact with the two women are currently being tested, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

In fact, there have been mounting calls for a temporary shutdown of clubs, karaoke bars and room salons, which have remained "blind spots" in the social distancing programs, amid worries about cluster infections. Belatedly, the city government made an administrative order, Wednesday, to suspend the operation of some 420 such facilities in Seoul at least until April 19.

Also, those who have tested positive again after being declared to have recovered from COVID-19 pose a dilemma for the authorities. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said it has found 51 cases so far, of which 25 occurred in Daegu. What is more dreadful is the possibility that the virus may have reactivated after remaining dormant in the patients during treatment. If this is true, COVID-19 will remain a hidden danger even after it appears to have gone. A thorough monitoring is definitely needed for all patients even after they are released from hospital. The self-quarantine rules should be applied to them as well, if necessary.

In many ways, the new coronavirus is a new level of threat to mankind. Complacency seems to be the biggest enemy in tackling this unprecedented crisis.
(END)

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