South Korea coronavirus response pushes Moon's rating to historic high

South Korean president Moon Jae-in's approval rating hit 71 per cent. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - The approval rating for Mr Moon Jae-in hit a record high for any democratically elected South Korean president at the same point in their term in office, in a show of public support for the government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Moon's approval rating hit 71 per cent in a weekly Gallup Korea tracking poll released Friday (May 8), its highest since July 2018, and the highest for any president heading into the final two years of a single, five-year term, the agency said. This comes as new infections in South Korea having fallen to single digits several weeks ago, allowing Mr Moon's government to ease its social distancing campaign and start reopening schools from May 13.

The record support builds on the momentum his progressive ruling coalition scored in April with the largest parliamentary election victory since the end of military-backed rule more than three decades ago, signalling to global leaders that a strong pandemic response can win votes.

The election gave Mr Moon's camp a three-fifths super-majority, allowing it to push through legislation without opposition votes. The victory adds support to the bloc's key goals to reduce income inequality by prioritising wages, reforming chaebol conglomerates and tightening rules on expensive housing development.

Mr Moon has also pushed for warmer ties with North Korea but Pyongyang has for months rejected his calls for talks, and told him to stand aside in its negotiations with US President Donald Trump.

South Korea, which in early March had the second highest number of cases behind China, has been able to control the virus spread without having to take severe measures such as imposing a lockdown, mandating closing of businesses or banning overseas travel.

Like other world leaders, Mr Moon stumbled in his early response to the pandemic, having predicted that the virus would be terminated "before long" only to see cases spike days later. But the government's focus on mass testing and isolation of the sick to corral coronavirus clusters has been credited with the sharp slowdown in the spread.

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