I found this comment from a reader while reading an online news article on Sunday about President Moon Jae-in's "self-promotional" narrative on why South Korea, unlike other countries like the United States, Britain and Australia, has no panic buying despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Coupang is a popular online shopping mall and could be likened to Korea's version of Amazon because of its wide selection of products and overnight delivery.
To help our readers understand why the internet user praised Coupang, I would like to share a little bit more about the news story. According to the article, in an undisclosed conversation last week, President Moon told his aides that he personally appreciated that the Korean public chose not to stockpile household supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Moon reportedly said Korean consumers don't hoard household products, such as toilet paper and other emergency supplies, because they trust their government and its pandemic response. The government is supposed to help citizens feel safe, he went on to say.
An unnamed presidential staffer chipped in and proudly told reporters that panic buying occurs when the public doesn't trust their government. President Moon's and his loyal deputy's "narcissistic" comments came as, according to Cheong Wa Dae, several foreign media outlets, including the BBC, praised South Korea for its effective post-virus outbreak responses.
Cynicism and derision dominated readers' reactions to the Korean news article.
Curious about the reports, I looked up international media outlets' recent coverage of South Korea's COVID-19 responses. A recent BBC report praised some Asian countries, including Taiwan and Singapore, for their calm and effective virus fight efforts in the early stage and it mentioned positively South Korea for its capability to conduct large-scale testing. But it was difficult to find international media news articles about the absence of panic buying in Korea, except one that was reported based on an Australian's first-hand experience of supermarkets in Korea.
I do agree with President Moon, and his deputy who provided the backstory for his boss's remarks to reporters to help them understand the context; that the role of government is important to assure the public not to be panicked in the event of a public health crisis like the one we are now going through.
But I'm not convinced by President Moon's remarks that the "absence of panic buying" in Korea after the novel coronavirus outbreak is because Koreans trust the government.
Contrary to his argument, there is panic buying in Korea. Every day, we see people in long lines near pharmacies to purchase face masks. Doctors have warned of possible virus infection occurring as people gather and wait for several hours to buy masks.
The "mask crisis" is Korea's equivalent of panic buying.
Shelves are still packed with products because shoppers shun supermarkets or physical grocery stores for fear of virus infection. They order household supplies online. The flurry of consumers online shopping in the wake of the virus outbreak has made Coupang workers busier and work longer hours. Hence, the lauding of Coupang workers as heroes who helped relieve concerned Korean consumers.
Like other Koreans, these delivery workers are, or may be more susceptible to virus infection, partly because of the nature of their work. A recent scientific research found that the virus can live on a surface for hours and this means that delivery workers are exposed to the virus as they handle a large number of boxes every day.
It would have been nice if President Moon had mentioned about these workers' health risks and tried to find if there are ways to help them stay safe, rather than self-promotion of his government for the role that it didn't actually play.
I sometimes feel that President Moon needs a staff member or a team assigned to scrutinize every word his wordsmith prepared before his actual speeches, to check if each expression is appropriate and in line with the message they intend to convey.
I think President Moon and his deputies will be better off if they bear one thing in mind in their preparation of the presidential speech: is his audience on the same page with the president?
Being heard matters.