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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 3)

06:58 December 03, 2021

Take stricter measures
It's time to shift to emergency mode

The Moon Jae-in administration is facing growing calls for stricter quarantine measures to better respond to the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic. There is no reason to hesitate on taking bolder action against the coronavirus as the situation is becoming worse than ever. The government has failed to prevent the potentially more contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus from penetrating into the country.

On Wednesday, the health authorities confirmed the first cases of the Omicron variant which has spread fast through Europe, Asia, North America and other parts of the world since it was first detected last month in South Africa. Five people have been confirmed to have tested positive for the variant here. They include a married couple who returned home after visiting Nigeria from Nov. 14 to 23. There are worries that the virus strain has already begun to spread in local communities.

More seriously, the number of daily new COVID-19 infections surged to 5,266 Thursday, hitting the highest level reported in Korea yet. The figure stayed above 5,000 for the second consecutive day, undermining the country's efforts to return to normal life under the government's "Living with COVID-19" strategy. It is inevitable to put this plan on hold and reintroduce tough quarantine requirements and strict social distancing rules to stem the further spread of the virus. Now is the time to shift to emergency mode.

It is somewhat fortunate that the government plans to unveil new emergency measures as early as today. Officials are considering putting stringent restricts again on private gatherings at restaurants, bars and other crowded places. This means that the authorities could deploy painful social distancing guidelines equivalent to the highest Level 4 emergency steps. Any expedient measures will not work to tackle the raging fifth wave of the coronavirus this winter.

Almost every time the pandemic has resurged, the Moon administration has been too slow to take action. There seems to be no exception this time. The government has given the impression that it is reluctant to backtrack on its efforts for a gradual return to normalcy. It does not want to acknowledge its policy failure a month after initiating the "Live with COVID-19" program. But, it should not repeat the same mistake, and instead must take a flexible attitude and try to meet challenges arising from the aggravating situation.

The pandemic is not just a public health crisis; it is also accompanied by an economic crisis. Without bringing COVID-19 under control, we cannot rebuild our economy. That's why the government has offered massive stimulus packages to minimize the devastating economic fallout from the pandemic. The administration's top priority is to defeat the virus, so it is urgent to take preemptive action to protect public health. It is also necessary to provide more financial support to small business owners and the self-employed who suffer the most from tougher quarantine and social distancing rules.

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