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[Editorial] Epidemic politics

Ruling camp soft on labor group gathering, hard on conservative rally attendees  

Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon and his Sarang Jeil Church are largely responsible for the resurgence of COVID-19. This is undeniable. They flouted social distancing instructions, obstructed contact tracing and refused testing. They deserve condemnation.

But the government and the Democratic Party of Korea cannot be immune to responsibility for their failure to contain the virus.

New infections are increasing rapidly and throughout the country. Now is the time for the entire nation to unite to beat the epidemic.

And yet the party and the government are busy blaming the conservative main opposition party.

The United Future Party has little to do with a massive anti-government rally in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Aug. 15. It distanced itself from Jun early on. But the ruling party is ignoring this, and trying hard to link the UFP to the pastor.

Ruling party Floor Leader Kim Tae-nyeon said the UFP should stop inciting division of public opinion and strongly recommend that rally participants get tested for the virus.

Former lawmaker Kim Boo-kyum said some far rightists are spreading the coronavirus under the cover of religion to sabotage the Moon government’s fight against the epidemic.

Rep. Lee Won-wook, who is running for party leader, argued that Kim Chong-in, the acting UFP leader, should be “dragged down (from his position) for aiding and abetting the coronavirus terrorist.”

Lee also insulted the judge who approved the rally. He proposed a bill to restrict judges’ right to rule on rallies, and named his bill after the judge.

As a matter of fact, a large portion of recent cases are unrelated to the church or the rally. Nevertheless, the ruling party and the government focus on the church and the Gwanghwamun rally.

According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, a total of 3,039 new infections were reported nationwide for two weeks from Aug. 11 to 24. Of them, 875 (28.7 percent) were linked to the church, and 176 (5.7 percent) to the Gwanghwamun rally.

Around the same time in the vicinity of Bosingak Pavilion in nearby Jongno, about 2,000 members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions effectively rallied under the pretext of a “press conference.” Seoul City Hall had refused permission for a demonstration, but they gathered anyway, saying it was a press conference.

Despite coming down hard on conservative groups, the ruling party and the government say little about the KCTU gathering. Police and health authorities raided pastors’ residences and churches that participated in the Gwanghwamun rally but levied no administrative sanctions on the labor event. They argued that it was not a rally but a press conference. This reasoning is less than convincing.

About a week after the de facto rally, where attendees shouted slogans and sang to dance routines, a participant tested positive at a hospital in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. The labor group told attendees to take tests but alleged later that public health authorities refused to test them because they did not attend the Gwanghwamun rally.

Health authorities even tracked mobile signals processed by all of the base stations in the Gwanghwamun area in an attempt to identify all of the rally participants and test them. However, the authorities did not test labor gathering attendees even if they wanted to be tested. Only after a member of the group took a private test and it turned out positive did the authorities begin to trace that person’s close contacts. The bias is obvious.

Apparently targeting the Gwanghwamun rally, Moon uttered strong words such as “red-handed arrest,” “malicious and organized obstruction,” and “anti-social crime.” The Justice Minister mentioned the “maximum possible penalty.” But they said nothing about the labor group gathering.

Actually, the government is not in a position to scold others. It lifted a ban on small church gatherings, allowed sports spectators in stadiums on a limited basis, and announced plans to distribute discount coupons to boost lodging, travel, concerts, exhibitions, cinema and sports businesses. These actions led the public to relax its vigilance against the disease.

The ruling party and the government do not admit their faults, but try to depict conservatives and the UFP as a hindrance to the fight against the pandemic.

Coronavirus was a major variable that aided the ruling party in winning the April 15 general election. It clouded other issues that were unfavorable to them.

The resurgence of the virus is alarming. The ruling camp must stop politicizing the pandemic and focus on the war against the virus.
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Korea Herald daum