|Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung speaks at a provincial assembly meeting at the Gyeonggi Provincial Assembly building, Thursday. Yonhap|
By Lee Hyo-jin
Local governments have begun proposing their own COVID-19 measures without sufficient consultation with central government, raising concerns that any moves deviating from nationwide quarantine policies may lead to widespread confusion or weaken the antivirus measures set by the health authorities.
Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung announced Thursday that his provincial government was reviewing the possibility of launching a separate vaccination rollout for residents of the province, using vaccines that have not been introduced into the country so far.
"Special measures are needed amid deepening concerns of a fourth wave of infections. We are reviewing whether Gyeonggi Province will be able to offer vaccines to our residents separately," Lee said at an assembly meeting when asked about additional measures that the local government is planning in order to reach herd immunity in the province.
An official of the provincial government added, "We are conducting working-level reviews of other vaccines, along with the legal issues involved in the procedure to introduce new vaccines into the country."
On the same day, newly elected Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon said he was considering lifting the ban on the gatherings of five or more people during lunchtime on weekdays.
Currently, gatherings of five or more are strictly banned across the country. The ban is regarded by the health authorities as one of the most effective measures in preventing group infections.
"I've heard that the gathering ban is putting a burden on citizens. We will actively consult with the central government on lifting the ban during lunchtime on weekdays once the current virus situation becomes stabilized," Park said during a meeting on emergency economic measures held at Busan City Hall.
He added that the city will fix other "irrational" social distancing measures imposed by the health authorities, such as restrictions on selling monthly vouchers at bathing facilities while allowing the use of one-day coupons.
|Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon speaks during a meeting on emergency economic measures held at Busan City Hall, Thursday. Yonhap|
The Seoul Metropolitan Government, for its part, is preparing its own social distancing measures, following an earlier announcement by Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, Monday, to introduce a more tailored antivirus plan for the capital area.
Oh is considering extending the operation hours of nighttime entertainment facilities, which are currently allowed to stay open until 10 p.m. He has also been pushing the implementation of COVID-19 self-testing kits, and is reviewing a pilot program of using the testing kits at certain facilities.
Regarding such moves, the Ministry of Health and Welfare stated that local administrations can impose their own quarantine measures only after consulting with the Central Disaster Management Headquarters, emphasizing the importance of cooperation between the central and local governments.
But the ministry said Lee's proposal to launch a separate vaccination program was not feasible.
"As COVID-19 vaccinations constitute a nationwide program conducted by the central government, we view that a local government will not be able to autonomously organize a plan of its own," health ministry spokesman Sohn Young-rae said at a briefing, Friday.
Sohn added that the proposal made by the Busan mayor to ease gathering bans during lunchtime can be reviewed after the virus situation has been stabilized.
While some have raised concerns that such unilateral moves by local governments may create widespread confusion, some view that their moves reflect skepticism towards the central government's lagging vaccine procurement plan.
Ma Sang-hyuk, vice president of the Korean Vaccine Society, wrote on Facebook, "If the government had succeeded in preemptively securing Pfizer vaccines, local governments would not have chosen to pursue steps that deviate from the government's quarantine policies."
Meanwhile, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention agency, the country reported 673 daily new infections for Thursday, including 652 local transmissions, bringing the total caseload to 112,789.