Stop politicizing the virus. COVID-19 is no longer just a health pandemic, but a haphazard mess of dirty politics. In times of vulnerability, our lives are at stake, and so is the very basis of democracies. Politicians need to stop victim-blaming or sensationalizing news to gain an advantage, but find ways to constructively reach progress on a problem that extends far beyond political boundaries.
At the moment, South Korean bipartisan parties are brandishing the virus as a weapon for victory in future elections. Sarang Jeil Church, a congregation of active, conservative Christians, is infamous for its vocal rhetoric of denouncing President Moon Jae-in as a leader of “communist hell.” The recent spike of infection cases from one of its protests, however, intertwined these entrenched religious and political tensions with the virus. President Moon framed the protestors as health threats to the nation, calling police officers to track down and investigate those who broke rules of quarantine and social distancing. Supporters of the church, and the party, have fired back with conspiracies of a political witchhunt and how President Moon is using the protest to cover up for his plummeting approval rates. Controversial rumors on both sides and the stigmatization of protestors are only working to sow divisions among citizens.
Normalizing victim-blaming and political haggling undermines trust and delays urgent progress. By vilifying their opponents, politicians weaken a united front crucial in passing legislation that efficiently deals with the pandemic. Even worse, the virus can be used as ways to marginalize minorities or suppress political opinion, pushing democracy to its very limits. For instance, the characterization of the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” has only antagonized racial groups and motivated acts of violence against them. The world may blame China all they want, but it certainly will not take them even one step closer to stopping the spread of the virus.
Korea is not the only country that should be concerned with political interference in COVID-19 response efforts either. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the use of plasma therapy treatment using COVID-19 antibodies to treat coronavirus patients. The treatment was authorized without substantial evidence backing up its effectiveness, and health officials called for further clinical trials to determine the potential side-effects of the procedure. Regardless, the Trump administration rushed to the public to announce and take credit for the launch of the plasma treatment, flourishing it with plenty of weakly unsubstantiated claims and data points found through observational studies. Such a lack of precaution downplays the potential adverse effects of the treatment, and with so many lives at stake, publicity for an upcoming election cannot take precedence over the scientific method.
We can only expect to gradually recover from the shocks of the virus when we are united in a common goal. The responsibility does not fall just upon politicians to work together, but also upon individuals themselves to not regress to trends of racism or politicization as well. COVID-19 is not a “Chinese virus,” hoax by the government, or an opportunity for press and publicity. It is a problem we must all face together, united.