Divide et impera is a Latin term in politics and sociology that directly translates to Divide and Conquer. It is the idea of gaining and maintaining power by generating tension among others, especially those less powerful, so that they cannot unite in opposition. This maxim has been attributed to Philip II of Macedon, which was famously uttered by the Roman ruler Julius Caesar and the French Emperor Napoleon. In connection to this idiom is Eritis insuperabiles, si fueritis inseparabiles, which means “You would be invincible if you were inseparable.” These two platitudes have long travelled a period of time, yet are still remembered due to how its context is still timely and relevant even in today’s situation.
Battling an enemy that can’t be seen, the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) took all of us off the hook last December 2019 when it suddenly changed everything that we once considered “normal”. It likely originated in a “wet market” in Wuhan, China, wherein the wet market refers to a marketplace with vendors selling live animals such as cats, dogs, rabbits, fish, and bats. The common ground among those who first caught the virus in China is that they all had some level of exposure to the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. Researchers then concluded that the new virus probably mutated from a coronavirus common in animals, which may have infected humans in the marketplace.
Rushing back to what once was the “normal”, South Korea has indeed been a victim of the virus’ strategy of Divide and Conquer. The COVID-19 resurgence in the country had doctors up on their feet. On Thursday, the country recorded 441 new cases, adding up to the streak of triple-digit increases in a week, as the figure was also the highest since March. This urged Korean Medical Association Chairman Choi Dae-zip to utter words that revealed how this war was a war against flesh, stating that “South Korean doctors are in a battle – not against a public health crisis, but against their government.”
Marking the start of a three-day general strike by his organization which is composed of 130,000 members, Choi spoke on behalf of the association during a live streamed interview. With a proposal to push through to the national government, the health care professionals are protesting for reform to increase the number of doctors in the country by 4,000 and to create a public medical school to alleviate the aforementioned struggle of COVID-19 resurgence in the country. Choi may have acknowledged that the strike is going ahead while the country is grappling with its worst coronavirus outbreak, yet he remained firm with the decision to push through with the protest, claiming that “there will be inconveniences, but I hope the people of this country will understand that we had no other option than to strike.”
However, despite the disclaimer uttered by Choi, not everyone is convinced. The public has asserted that this is a mere distraction as doctors are only trying to shirk their duty at the time the country needs them most. This pushed netizens to throw criticism against the health care professionals. Set to run through Friday, this strike is one of the growing signs that South Korea is showing cracks to its unity in fighting the pandemic after putting up a united front against the virus for months, as politicians are also sparring over who is to blame for the COVID-19 resurgence.
Deemed to be more dangerous the third way around, the current rise in cases are composed of infections that have been detected in the densely populated capital area and clusters. This makes the known solution of aggressive testing and contact tracing which was used to bring South Korea’s first major outbreak in February and March under control not feasible. Putting out into order the return to work of the protesting doctors as the government was now aware and informed with reports saying that some hospitals were limiting hours and delaying surgeries.
“To overcome this current wave, quarantine officials, local governments, doctors and the public all need to unify,” Lee Hae-chan, leader of the ruling Democratic Party, said at the National Assembly on Wednesday. Opposing United Future Party Lawmaker Cho Hae-jin also gave her sentiments, comparing the strike to “sticking a knife in the back of the front-line response.” However, politicians are anything but unified over the bearing of responsibility for the latest COVID-19 wave.
Tied to a right-wing church event, many of the newly reported infections were traced back to a large rally in Seoul on August 15, paving way to an avenue of who gets the blame. Parties have accused either the rally participants or the government, as to easing social distancing recommendations and even encouraging people to go out and spend to try and revive the economy.
It is evident that the rush to going back to what was once the normal risked public health, hence pushing the healthcare professionals to commence a strike for their cries for more personnel and manpower to be heard. Clearly, the virus has made its clear cut between the government and the people, dividing our powers in battling the pandemic, as it conquers South Korea, with the skyrocketing number of cases each day.