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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on June 29)

No time to lower our guard

As of Sunday, the number of people confirmed infected with the new coronavirus exceeded 10 million around the world. The death toll of more than 500,000 shows a global disaster from the Covid-19 pandemic. We witness such a gloomy reality 179 days after the World Health Organization (WHO) on Dec. 31 last year reported the first outbreak of an “unidentified pneumonia” from Wuhan, China.

The novel coronavirus has swept across 214 countries over the last six months. Concerns are high that the panic from Covid-19 will have a bigger impact on the global economy than the Great Depression. Despite earlier predictions that the spread of Covid-19 will subside in the summer heat wave in the northern hemisphere, the virus is spreading faster than before. Some countries, including the United States and Brazil, nearly failed to control the spread after easing safety measures for an economic rebound. The WHO is nearly helpless amid a protracted brawl between Washington and Beijing over who should take responsibility for the spread. In the meantime, any effective cures or vaccines are nowhere in sight.

Korea is no exception. After the government eased social distancing on May 6, a second wave of infections started in the Seoul metropolitan area followed by a rapid spread in Daejeon, South and North Chungcheong, as well as South and North Jeolla to the extent that the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) warned of possible infections in any part of the country. It is not the time for the central government to have pride in setting an example in the global battle against the virus. It must reinforce quarantine activities before it is too late.

The Blue House, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the KCDC and local governments must do their best to stop Covid-19 from spreading further. They must pay special heed to the fatigue accumulated among our medical staff engaged in a heated battle on the frontline so they can do their job successfully until the war is over. But the way the government and local administrations behave is quite disappointing due to a lack of preemptive actions.

Seoul city rushed to allow 1,800 restaurants, pubs and hostess bars in the city to reopen on June 15 despite the ongoing spread of the virus in the region. Governments have kicked off a massive two-week campaign since last Friday to revitalize domestic consumption without keeping watch on social distancing.

The government should put the economy back on track. But if it chooses to ignore safety, it will fail on both fronts. As the second wave poses even tougher challenges ahead, the government must prove its true ability to fight the virus.
(END)

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