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Stealing the show

Mar 20,2020
It is embarrassing to see the Blue House bending facts for publicity during the coronavirus crisis. On Monday, the Blue House announced that the country shipped 51,000 coronavirus (Covid-10) diagnosis kits to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It claimed the deal was made after a telephone conversation between President Moon Jae-in and his UAE counterpart. Later the supplier of the kits corrected the announcement by saying it was actually sample collection kits, not testing kits. As a sample collection kit is used to swab and store patients’ samples, it does not have the ability to identify Covid-19.

Last week, the Blue House uploaded a video on Q. and A. with foreign correspondents on Twitter. The questions mostly focused on how well the government coped with the epidemic. A reporter even wondered how many journalists had been “cropped out” of the edit to make the government look good.

The president goes on boasting about the government being an “exemplary” case, and the health minister claims that the way that Korea has dealt with the coronavirus has become the “global standard.” Rhyu Si-min, a pro-government commentator, argues that only the Korean press is criticizing the government’s actions on Covid-19.

It is true that Korea is closely watched by others for its handling of the virus amid a pandemic scare across the world. But credit should go to the private and civilian sectors, not the government. Doctors and nurses have rushed to virus-plagued regions for volunteer work and civilians kept to social distancing, helping contain the spread of the virus. The government has only worsened the spread by failures in early-stage quarantines and excessive intervention in mask supplies.

Foreign media has highlighted Korea’s medical ability to diagnose 15,000 cases a day and its stunning test innovations such as drive-through testing, not the government’s role. The New York Times highlighted Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong for their excellent quarantine actions. But it pointed out that Korea faces a political backlash for stumbling in the early stage of the infections. The New Yorker specified where authorities have erred in an article on the case of Korea. The New York Times also criticized President Moon for making a blunder by declaring that the crisis from the virus would be over soon.

The government has never apologized or sounded remorseful for its floundering in the early stages. Yet it is touting what it did ahead of the April 15 parliamentary elections. The government and ruling party will face a strong backlash if it underestimates the people.