New Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said Monday that the city will move away from the current uniform quarantine measures that force self-employed and small business owners to sacrifice, and change the quarantine paradigm to focus on “co-existence” between protecting people’s livelihoods and combating COVID-19. With the country teetering on the brink of a fourth wave of COVID-19, Seoul’s shift in quarantine rules runs counter to the government’s social distancing measures that prohibit the operations of bars, clubs, and other entertainment establishments in Busan as well as Seoul and its surrounding areas from Monday. Discussion between the government and Seoul City is necessary since such mismatch between the central government and a local government over quarantine rules could increase public anxiety and hurt public trust in the country’s quarantine rules.
Seoul’s “win-win” social distancing scheme aims to flexibly apply business hours, such as until 10 p.m. for cafes and until midnight for bars, clubs, and other entertainment establishments. The city plans to help small business owners curb the loss of revenue by introducing COVID-19 self-diagnosis kit for karaoke users at night. However, the city should sufficiently review the risks of its plan since experts point out that the accuracy of the COVID-19 rapid antigen test kit stands at only 17.5%.
The Seoul metropolitan area is a one-day life zone. As much as 60% of all COVID-19 infections occur across the whole area, and the country is seeing a series of infections in karaokes and entertainment establishments. Although the leader of each local government has the authority to issues independent quarantine rules, the central and local governments should head towards the same direction in a crisis situation to avoid confusion among the people.
The Seoul city government should also carefully review if applying different business hours would create another controversy over unclear standard in restricting business hours. The government has restricted business hours based on arbitrary and unclear standards, undermining the credibility of its quarantine rules. It allowed restaurants to operate while restricted gyms without convincing explanation. It sometimes faced a backlash from the public by changing quarantine rules not based on scientific standards but based on requests from certain groups. Emotional fatigue has reached its peak as the government depends heavily on social distancing while lagging behind global race to secure COVID-19 vaccines. The Seoul city government should take into consideration these factors when making its own quarantine manuals to consult with the central government.
Presiding over an emergency COVID-19 meeting on Monday, President Moon Jae-in said the country is on the brink of “explosive” COVID-19 infections if we let our guard down, adding if the current rate of infection cannot be contained, the government will have to raise the level social distancing scheme even though it could hurt people’s livelihoods and the economy. Other measures, such as giving discretion to the ministers of relevant ministries in terms of anti-virus efforts, were also discussed. Anti-virus efforts are not in the arena of politics but in the survival of people. There is a saying, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” The country needs a control tower with a stable leadership so that quarantine experts can properly offer their opinions on the situation.