Public fury grows as some politicians flout COVID-19 rules
Public fury is growing in South Korea over elected officials flouting safety guidance and practices as the country grapples with a record number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Hwang Un-ha on Dec. 26 dined out at a restaurant in Daejeon in the company of five people in apparent violation of social distancing orders.
Among those at the get-together was the former mayor of Daejeon, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 a few days later. As a result of the meeting, the ruling party lawmaker is now under quarantine
Just before Christmas, Korea introduced a ban on social gatherings of more than four people that lasted beyond the New Year’s holiday. There are fines for breaking the ban, but it relies mostly on the honor system for compliance.
Hwang is not likely to face consequences, as it’s hard to pin down concrete evidence that he had planned the group dinner.
Ministry of Health and Welfare spokesperson Son Young-rae said Sunday it was “up to the municipal officers to decide if the particular event involving the lawmaker should qualify as a breach,” adding, “I just know what’s reported in the press.”
Front-line workers say such disregard for social distancing from the country’s leadership feels like a “slap in the face.”
“To me it matters little that what the lawmaker pulled off is not technically a violation. The point is to keep the incidence of illness below the medical system capacity by reducing social contact,” said Dr. Cho Seung-kook, who has been caring for COVID-19 patients for the last eight months at a hospital in Wonju, Gangwon Province.
“It infuriates me because I know what my patients and my colleagues are going through,” he said.
Pulmonologist Dr. Chun Eun-mi said such behaviors “endanger public health.” “Eating indoors is one of the riskiest activities,” she said. “I’m also worried it might serve to undermine the gravity of the situation and embolden those who question the seriousness of the disease.”