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[Election 2022] Next target in election campaign: COVID-wary voters

Presidential nominees launch coronavirus countermeasure teams to appeal

Lee Jae-myung (second from right), the presidential nominee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, speaks wth doctor-turned-lawmaker Rep. Shin Hyun-young (far right) at Incheon Medical Center in Incheon on Monday. (Yonhap)
Lee Jae-myung (second from right), the presidential nominee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, speaks wth doctor-turned-lawmaker Rep. Shin Hyun-young (far right) at Incheon Medical Center in Incheon on Monday. (Yonhap)
The leading presidential candidates are scrambling to draw up their own pandemic response plans as they try to reach out to COVID-19-wary voters, and to benefit for growing discontent against the current administration’s measures.

As the number of COVID-19 cases hit daily highs over 7,000 on Tuesday and Wednesday, the election camps of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and the main opposition People Power Party both announced their respective launches of COVID-19 countermeasure teams.

The rival campaign committees from the two biggest parties appeared to be on the same side in blaming the incumbent government for the surging cases, both claiming they will provide better solutions to quell the spread of infections.

The election committee for Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate from the ruling Democratic Party, announced that they are creating a COVID-19 situation room and appointed doctor-turned-lawmaker Rep. Shin Hyun-young as the chief.

“The virus is evolving day by day, but I feel the government’s countermeasure policies are still too rough. More detailed and speedy solutions should come out,” Rep. Shin said.

Shin said the situation room will work to secure more hospital beds and support the settling of the at-home care system the government is pushing to handle the increasing number of COVID-19 patients.

“The preventive efforts (by the government) were good, but there are things that could have been done better in the past two years,” said Catholic University of Korea virologist Dr. Paik Soon-young, who joined the outside advisory group for the countermeasure team.

Paik said the government would have known that gradually loosening social distancing measures to return to normal would lead to an increase in the number of critically ill patients, but it has missed the timing to stop it.

Shin said the election committee’s situation room will set up a hotline with the government’s health authorities to come up with effective countermeasures against the virus. The outside advisory group of experts for the team includes professor Lee Jae-gap of Hallym University Medical Center.

The rival election committee for Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential nominee for the main opposition People Power Party, also kicked off a COVID-19 countermeasure team Wednesday.

In announcing the kickoff of the team, headed by former director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, Jung Ki-seok, Yoon’s spokesman criticized the government as “incapable.”

“We have diagnosed a lot of problems with the current government’s policies in handling COVID-19. The government failed in curbing the infection cases, in securing hospital beds and the budget to buy the vaccines. They also mishandled the difficulties of small-business owners who have suffered damage from the pandemic,” Rep. Lee Yang-soo, who serves as the senior spokesman for Yoon, said in a statement Wednesday.

Yoon’s election committee has decided to launch a COVID-19 countermeasure committee “to protect the lives of the people and guarantee their safety,” Lee said.

Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, poses with shop owners at the Seomun traditional market in Daegu in a dinner meeting, during his regional canvassing on Nov. 30. (People Power Party)
Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, poses with shop owners at the Seomun traditional market in Daegu in a dinner meeting, during his regional canvassing on Nov. 30. (People Power Party)

In a separate press conference, the election committee’s policy chief, Won Hee-ryong, formerly the governor of Jeju Island, announced the election pledge that the government will take full charge of securing sufficient hospital beds for critically ill COVID-19 patients, targeting the current shortage of hospital beds.

“We will transform all public medical centers to be dedicated to treating COVID-19 to secure hospital beds,” Won said.

“Also, we believe it is irresponsible to make patients be treated at home, without (face-to-face) examination from the doctor. Especially for seniors with chronic diseases, we will make sure they are treated at the hospital even if they show minor symptoms,” he added, saying Yoon’s government would completely reform the current at-home care system by the Moon Jae-in administration.

A day prior, the opposition party also made the pledge that they would take responsibility and compensate for side effects caused by vaccines if Yoon is elected.

The presidential candidates from across the aisle are also competitively proposing big compensation pledges for small-business owners hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lee and Yoon’s election camps have proposed to spend 100 trillion won ($85 billion) and 50 trillion won, respectively, to compensate for the damages of small businesses suffering from the pandemic.

In a move deemed to stand on equal footing with the ruling party, the main opposition party’s election committee chief Kim Chong-in said his campaign team is also considering raising the compensation budget to 100 trillion won.

He, however, refused the ruling party’s request to hold talks Thursday, saying it is a matter not subject for negotiation with the Democratic Party.

“We are reviewing the COVID-19 (compensation) measure now to carry it out when Yoon Suk-yeol is elected president,” Kim said in a party meeting.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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