South Korea’s National Assembly comes to complete halt over first Covid-19 case

South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech on the Korean Peninsula peace process at the Swedish Parliament House in Stockholm on June 14, 2019. (Yonhap). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Aug 27, 2020, Yonhap. All proceedings of the National Assembly came to a complete halt Thursday with the parliament’s main buildings closed for disinfection, one day after the first COVID-19 case was reported from inside parliament, Yonhap News Agency reported.

A photojournalist posted at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, tested positive Wednesday evening after covering the ruling Democratic Party’s leadership meeting earlier in the day.

The journalist was tested following the party meeting after learning that a relative with whom he dined last Saturday tested positive.

It is the first COVID-19 case confirmed inside the National Assembly. In late February, an outsider invited to a parliamentary event tested positive, forcing the National Assembly’s main buildings to be closed for more than 40 hours.

The latest infection case again prompted the National Assembly’s COVID-19 response task force to seal off three main buildings, including the main assembly building, Thursday for disinfection and an epidemiological survey.

In line with the decision, all nine parliamentary committee meetings scheduled for Thursday have been postponed.

Rival parties, including the ruling Democratic Party (DP), the main opposition United Future Party, Justice Party and People’s Party, also called off official meetings planned for Thursday morning at the National Assembly.

More than 50 people were assumed to have come in contact with the photojournalist directly or indirectly.

The people affected include DP Chairman Lee Hae-chan and floor leader, Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon, as well as 30 additional party members and staff members who attended the Wednesday meeting, covered by the journalist.

Upon the initial news that the journalist was tested for the virus, the affected DP leaders voluntarily went under self-quarantine as a precautionary measure. Many of them might need to get tested following the positive test result of the journalist and a following epidemiological survey conducted on the case.

In connection with the outbreak, National Assembly Speaker Rep. Park Byeong-seug also withdrew public appearances Thursday and shut himself up in his house after DP floor leader Kim held a meeting with him and later with the main opposition floor leader Rep. Joo Ho-young.

Coupled with the country’s looming second wave of infections, the absence of the speaker and ruling party leaders raised concerns that this could further derail National Assembly proceedings down the road, including a plenary meeting planned for Sept. 4.

“It could develop into a very difficult situation if all the party members who attended the Wednesday meeting are required to get tested … and any confirmed case is found there,” a DP official said.

Taking a direct blow from the outbreak could possibly be the DP’s party convention set for Saturday, called to pick the party’s next chairman and five top representatives. Leading chairman candidate, Rep. Lee Nak-yon, will join the convention online as he will remain under self-quarantine till the end of the month after coming in indirect contact with a COVID-19 patient.

The number of absentees from the convention like Lee could grow if any related DP members come under mandatory self-quarantine or test positive in connection with the latest parliamentary infection case.

In light of the confirmed case, the main opposition party said it will also reschedule a string of party events planned for early next week, while the minor People’s Party closed its headquarters near the assembly for preemptive disinfection.

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