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South Korean and Japanese leaders are under pressure on the worsening of the epidemic as new infections hit a new high and the government support rate declines.

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“In April this year, South Korea was used as an example to curb the COVID-19 epidemic. But eight months later, success has given way to warning that South Korea is in a wave of infections that can’t be stopped.” This comparison in the British Guardian describes the current grim situation of the epidemic in South Korea.

Data reported by South Korea’s epidemic prevention department on the 16th showed that 1,078 new confirmed cases were confirmed the day before, setting a new one-day increase record. In keeping pace with the deterioration of the epidemic situation, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating has been falling recently.

Another East Asian country, Japan, is quite similar. Since the winter, the epidemic in Japan has also deteriorated, and recently hit a new high of more than 3,000 new cases in a single day. Affected by the epidemic, people’s enthusiasm for hosting the Tokyo Olympic Games next year has been declining, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has just taken office for three months, has been declining.

Some foreign media even speculated that Kan Yiwei made a mistake in preventing and controlling the epidemic, or became another “short-lived” prime minister in Japanese history. Can South Korea and Japan reverse the rapid spread of the virus as soon as possible? This “cold winter” poses a big challenge to the leaders of both countries.

South Korea: From Success to Fear

South Korea’s Central Epidemic Prevention and Response Headquarters reported on the 16th that as of 00:00 on the same day, South Korea had 1,078 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 compared with 00:00 the previous day. This is a new case of more than 1,000 cases in South Korea after three days, and it has set a new one-day increase record.

Yonhap said that the epidemic prevention situation in South Korea was unprecedentedly severe. In view of the continuous spread of the epidemic in schools, workplaces, small gatherings and other daily living spaces, and the continuous emergence of cluster infections in religious facilities and convalescence facilities, the scale of confirmed cases may continue to expand in the near future.

The capital circle centered on Seoul is the most affected area of the epidemic, accounting for 757 of the new cases reported on the 16th. The Seoul Municipal Government said on the 16th that it would carry out full coverage nucleic acid testing for personnel in high-risk industries.

Acting Mayor Xu Zhengxie of Seoul said at an online press conference that he would increase the daily detection capacity from the current 10,000 to a maximum of 37,000 with the determination of the city’s census.

The South Korean government has been hesitating whether to launch the highest-level epidemic prevention response. South Korea’s social distancing epidemic prevention classification standards are divided into five levels from low to high: level 1, level 1.5, level 2, level 2.5 and level 3. The epidemic prevention response level in the capital circle was raised to level 2.5 on December 8.

South Korea’s Asian Economy said that according to the new version of the epidemic prevention response mechanism released by the government in early November, if the number of new cases exceeds 800 to 1,000 in a single day, or when the number of confirmed cases in a single day doubles, the epidemic prevention response level will be raised to level 3.

When responding at level 3, gathering activities of more than 10 people are prohibited. Except for restaurants, shops, medical institutions and other necessary facilities, all public gathering facilities will be suspended.

The deterioration of the epidemic situation in South Korea has also attracted the attention of many international media. CNN said on the 16th that South Korea may enter a state of lockdown for the first time since the epidemic with the alarming increase in new infections. South Korea has a much smaller number of new cases compared to most of Europe or the United States.

But the latest surge shows that winter temperatures are low, and most people stay indoors and are more vulnerable to infection. Coupled with people’s increasing fatigue of restrictions and preventive measures, epidemic prevention is full of difficulties. A senior health official in South Korea warned that the country is facing “the biggest crisis” to date.

“From the early success of the fight against the epidemic to the fear of the fierce spread of the virus,” the British Guardian said that in April, South Korea was used as an example to contain the COVID-19 epidemic, and the WHO praised it.

The South Korean government has launched “COVID Diplomacy” to cooperate with countries with larger epidemics and more deaths, and issued detailed guidelines to deal with the pandemic in a Korean way. But now, South Korea is in a wave of infections that can’t be stopped.

The article said that South Korean President Moon Jae-in was praised for his efforts to deal with the epidemic a few months ago, but now his approval rating has fallen to its lowest point. According to a survey released last week by the polling agency Gallup in South Korea, Moon’s favorable rating for governance was 38%, the lowest since taking office.

Japan: Yoshihide Suga work is not good

Compared with South Korea, the situation in Japan is more serious. According to a report by NHK TV station in Japan, as of 23:30 p.m. on the 16th, 2,993 new confirmed cases were reported in Japan that day.

The number of deaths on that day was 53, the same as the previous day, which was the highest in a single day. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said on the 16th that 678 people were newly diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in Tokyo that day, surpassing 621 on the 12th of this month, a single-day high.

According to the Japan Economic News, Shigeru Oshimi, president of the Japanese government’s COVID-19 Response Branch, said on the 16th that if the current high number of confirmed cases continues, the number of confirmed cases and severe patients will continue, which will lead to the collapse of medical and health care institutions and have a significant impact on the Japanese economy. He called for measures to curb social activities.

The accelerated spread of the virus has further hit the enthusiasm for the Tokyo Olympics. According to a poll released by NHK on the 15th, 63% of the respondents believe that the Tokyo Olympic Games should be cancelled or postponed again.

Of these, 27% of the respondents thought that next year’s Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games “should be held”, 32% thought that they should be terminated, and another 31% thought that it should continue to be postponed. The attitude of the Japanese people towards the Olympic Games seems to be closely related to the development of the epidemic. In a similar poll conducted in October, NHK thought that the proportion of respondents who said “should be held” was higher than “should be terminated”.

Recently, the Japanese government has decided to suspend the previous “Go To Travel” domestic travel subsidy scheme from December 28 to January 11, 2021. Since the outbreak rebounded, Japanese public opinion has been controversial about the project, and some medical experts and opposition parties have criticized Go To Travel as the “black hand” that caused the epidemic to worsen the epidemic.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is under great pressure as a result. On the 16th, Kan Yiwei was the prime minister for exactly three months. When he first took office, his polling support was nearly 70%. However, the results of the poll released by NHK TV on the 14th showed that Kan Yiwei’s cabinet support rate plummeted to 42%, down 14 percentage points from last month.

Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao said on the 16th that the epidemic in Japan has worsened since mid-November, and the Central Epidemic Response Team has continuously requested the suspension of the “local tourism support” policy, but Kan Yiwei has denied it until the day before yesterday.

The analysis believes that Kan Yiwei’s failure to prevent and control the epidemic may make him another “short-lived” prime minister in Japanese history. Asahi Shimbun quoted officials of the Prime Minister’s Office as saying: “If the policy is not tightened, it may have a significant impact on its regime.” Yoshito Fujiki, a professor of infectious diseases at Showa University, believes that the medical community has already turned on a red light.

Yoshihide Suga Kan has always ignored the warning of the medical community. He has decided to suspend the policy a month late.

South Korea and Japan face another disadvantage

The worsening of the epidemic has also impacted the economies of South Korea and Japan. South Korea’s unwillingness to upgrade to the highest response level is largely due to concerns about further impact on the economy.

Yin Tae-ho, head of the epidemic prevention umbrella group of the Central Emergency Response Headquarters of South Korea, said at a regular press conference on the 16th that the average number of new confirmed cases nationwide last week was about 833, which met the upward standard of level 3 epidemic prevention response.

Given that the Level 3 response is a strong epidemic prevention measure and the last barrier, which will hit the operation of self-employed private owners hard, the government is soliciting opinions from all parties and conducting in-depth research on it.

The Japanese government is also unwilling to suspend the domestic tourism subsidy program for economic reasons. Yasuhiro Nishimura, Japan’s Minister of Economic Regeneration, said on the 16th that the Go To Travel project was suspended on the Cabinet Committee of the House of Representatives: “This is the most effective time to reduce people-to-people contact opportunities, and we will do our best to prevent the spread of the epidemic as soon as possible.” Given the economic blow, Nishimura said it was a “painful choice.” Japan Economic News said that Japan’s economy has recovered from the COVID-19 epidemic slowly, laging behind China and the United States.

Compared with the United States, South Korea and Japan have another disadvantage – it is later to get a vaccine. The United States has started vaccination, but few countries in Asia will get a Western coronavirus vaccine in the coming weeks, Reuters said.

They need to continue the approach of curbing the epidemic for months, imposing travel restrictions, social distancing and wearing masks.

“Why is Japan basically a bystander in the coronavirus vaccine competition?” Japan’s research and development of a coronavirus vaccine lags far behind its global competitors, the Japan Times said. Japanese people are unlikely to have access to domestic vaccines before 2022.

Industry insiders said that this was due to Japan’s failure to effectively integrate pharmaceutical companies and protect relatively small Japanese companies in international competition.

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