Daegu, Gyeongsan, Cheongdo and Bonghwa, which bore the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, have been designated as a special disaster area. It means the government will use the budget to restore the damages by subsidizing 50 percent of recovery cost with a plan. It is the first time that the government has designated special disaster areas due to an infectious disease, not natural disasters or major accidents.
A mass infection in those cities paralyzed lives of citizens for about a month after the “patient 31,” a believer of Shincheonji cult, tested positive on February 18. As of Saturday, 83 percent of confirmed cases (8,162) and 87 percent of the death toll (75) were concentrated in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province. The spread is slowing down as those areas are seeing less than 50 new cases a day, but it is hard to predict when the pandemic would stop. “I would like to ask citizens of Daegu to tolerate the situation for two more weeks to stop the virus,” said the Daegu mayor on Sunday.
Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province were able to slow down the spread of the virus and prevent it from proliferating to the entire country thanks to the voluntary social distancing of their citizens. They voluntarily refrained from going out and meeting people, and business owners also closed their shops even though their livelihood was at stake. The government did not seal the cities off, but citizens saved the country from a bigger disaster by voluntarily acting out.
A thorough quarantine, however, has caused a deep economic recession in those areas. Economic plight of citizens deepened, and the economy lost its vitality as restaurants, factories and theaters closed. Livelihoods of patients and quarantined citizens who could not go to work have been disrupted. Special disaster areas can receive living expenses for citizens and a relief fund for the dead and injured. The citizens can have benefits on their bills, such as gas, electricity bill and health insurance. It would help ease the financial crunch.
But complicated administrative processes and delayed supports should not be an issue just as the time when special disaster areas were designated due to earthquakes and bushfires. The government needs to provide quick supports to those in need. This time, a more sophisticated approach is required in selecting targets and methods as the damages this time are indirectly due to a virus outbreak, unlike direct damages in past special disaster areas such as housing and facility destruction. A new standard that suits Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province is urgently needed for effective support.
Citizens in the region cannot go back to their old lives as long as the virus persists. Quick national support and participation of all citizens are the only way to bring the “spring of miracles” to those areas.