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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Nov. 23)

07:01 November 23, 2020

The next wave

After daily Covid-19 cases surged to more than 300 for five days in a row, the Moon Jae-in administration on Sunday decided to upgrade social distancing to Level 2 from Level 1.5 in the greater Seoul area from Tuesday. Though it is a belated step, we welcome it given the grim situation where the numbers of total cases and deaths have exceeded 30,000 and 500 respectively. This is the time to reinforce social distancing rather than focusing on economic recovery.

Our health authorities have elevated social distancing to Level 1.5 from Level 1 since Thursday, but failed to control the spread of the virus. Though the government designated a special quarantine period until the annual College Scholastic Ability Test on Dec. 3, parents' concerns are growing over its ineffectiveness.

The Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters split the existing three-tiered distancing levels into five tiers since Nov. 7, but that decision provoked public suspicion that the government prioritizes the economy above all. After it doled out hefty discount coupons once again to help ease the pandemic's impact on the economy, many citizens lowered their guards. It will be best if the government can tame the virus and revitalize the economy at the same time. But when that is not possible, the priority should be placed on health, particularly ahead of a possible third wave of the pandemic.

The Moon administration's double standards on large-scale outdoor rallies compromised public trust and the efficacy of its policy. It took a soft approach to nationwide rallies by progressive groups on Nov. 14, but suppressed conservative rallies on Gwanghwamun Square. Such a distinction caused the people to lose their trust in the government.

A third wave has already started following earlier ones in February and August. Another uphill battle awaits us. When the government escalates social distancing to Level 2 from Tuesday, it will have a serious impact on the daily lives of the people, as it strictly bans gatherings of over 100 citizens, restricts the number of students going to schools and only allows restaurants to serve customers with takeout.

The government must concentrate on reducing the death toll. To prepare for a spike in new cases, it must secure ICUs in advance while beefing up efforts to obtain vaccines. No one would understand Unification Minister Lee In-young's rush to supply North Korea with vaccines. Unless a government safeguards the public health of its own people, it is an irresponsible government.
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