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Virus leads to a regulation sandbox

Mar 17,2020
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SOHN HAE-YONG
The author is an economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

It’s ironic. Faced with the crisis as the Covid-19 coronavirus spreads, the weight of regulations and practices pressuring the market and industries can be estimated.

The government temporarily permitted telemedicine to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in hospitals. Payment can be made through account transfers, and prescriptions are sent to a pharmacy of the patient’s choice via fax or email. Prescriptions also can be received by delivery when agreed upon by pharmacies and patients. Those who first experienced remote medical care thanks to the outbreak had positive responses, saying it rid them of concerns and the inconvenience of visiting hospitals.

As orders to buy necessities spiked, demands to lift the mandatory closing of large supermarkets on the second and fourth Sundays in Seoul also grew. With many online stores selling out, keeping large supermarkets open would help.

At work, the restriction of time and space is being relieved. In order to prevent management interruption due to the infection of employees, many companies introduced work-from-home systems using video conferencing and clouding. The school year is delayed, and voices to expand and revamp remote learning systems are growing. Just in time, after the government decided to not apply the 20 percent remote learning credit acquisition restriction to general universities, major colleges and universities, which are all expanding their classes through the internet.

While telemedicine is illegal in Korea, it is commonplace in the United States, China, Europe and Japan. The regulations on Korea’s retail industry remain the same when the competition structure has switched from large supermarkets versus traditional markets to online stores versus offline stores. Korea is an IT power, but the implementation of work-from-home and remote education has been slow. It is not because technology and understanding of the market were not sufficient but because of unreasonable regulations and outdated practices of the government.

Sungkyunkwan University Professor Choi Jae-bung, the author of best-seller “Phono Sapiens,” stresses that a customer who has one overwhelming experience deletes his or her 30-year-old habit from the brain. In other words, once you have access to a convenient service, it is hard to go back.

What provides the motive for this “overwhelming experience” is Covid-19. While it needs to be overcome, it is serving the role of a “regulatory sandbox” to exempt or defer existing regulations on new technologies and industries.