Always adhere to protective gear

The author is the Washington correspondent for JoongAng Ilbo.

Last week I was at the checkout counter in a downtown DC grocery store and something was unusual. I noticed that the plexiglass screens at each checkout had been removed. In early 2020, shortly after Covid-19 began to spread, major supermarket chains such as Walmart and Costco installed transparent screens between employees and customers. Although there is still no scientific research indicating that the screen can prevent the spread of the virus, it helped reduce anxiety when no one knew much about the virus.

The US federal government and major state governments lifted the indoor mask mandate in February and March. In April, the last restrictions imposed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – the mask requirement on public transportation, including planes, trains and buses – were lifted by a federal court order. In June, the CDC withdrew the order that required the submission of a negative Covid test result when boarding a plane bound for the United States.

The daily life of Americans is almost back to pre-Covid. In the context of the change in strategy, the CDC explained that while the pandemic was not over, the changes were made so that Covid would not significantly interfere with daily life. With Covid-19 now a part of life, it is time for individuals to decide on their own preventive methods rather than unilaterally controlling an indeterminate majority. Scientific arguments have been presented that vaccination and previous infections have boosted immunity while diversified treatments and preventive measures have reduced the risk of serious illness and death.

The Korea I experienced upon arriving at Incheon International Airport last week was a different world. Disease control personnel, armed with ankle-length protective suits and face shields, masks and gloves, looked the same as they did at the start of the pandemic. To board a plane bound for Korea, passengers must take a Covid test, and a PCR test within a day of arrival is also required. When Japan scraps the pre-arrival testing requirement next month, Korea will be the only country to require incoming travelers to be tested among the 38 OECD member countries. How would the government explain the contradiction to other countries, as Korea has the highest number of daily cases at 2,005 per 1 million? Cases in the United States are at 277 per 1 million, or one-seventh that of Korea. Germany and France are similar, with 399 and 268. Korea is isolated as an island in the global pandemic response.

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