Oh Se-hoon (C), mayoral candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, holds flowers as he celebrates with party members as they watch televisions broadcasting the results of exit polls for the Seoul mayoral by-election at the party's headquarters in Seoul on April 7, 2021. ( POOL / SONG Kyung-Seok)

Misleading posts claim Seoul mayor 'disbanded city's epidemiological task force'

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As Covid-19 cases surged in South Korea, social media posts criticised the mayor of Seoul, Oh Se-hoon, for purportedly disbanding the city's "epidemiological investigation task force" after he was elected in April 2021. The claim is misleading: Seoul's city government operates an "Epidemiological Investigation Office" which has never been disbanded, the city government said. Another government team that coordinates epidemiological investigation aid for city districts was suspended more than one month before Oh was elected as mayor. It was set to resume operation from July 12, 2021, authorities said.

The claim was shared here on Facebook on July 9, 2021. It has been shared more than 230 times. 

"Let's vote wisely! In April 2021, Oh Se-hoon was elected as Seoul mayor and he disbanded the city's epidemiological investigation task force," the Korean-language claim reads in part.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, taken on July 12, 2021.

Oh Se-hoon is a South Korean politician elected mayor of the capital Seoul on April 8, 2021.

South Korea has seen record highs in Covid-19 cases in July 2021, with more than 400 new infections in the capital on July 12, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

The country had previously been held up as a model of how to combat the pandemic, with the public largely following social distancing and other rules, but it was slow to start its vaccine roll-out due to supply shortages. 

An identical claim was shared on Facebook here, here and here.

The claim, however, is misleading.

Seoul's Epidemiological Investigation Office, responsible for the city's epidemiological investigation and analysis, has not been disbanded, the government said.

"The Office, which consists of 75 investigators, has never been disbanded, although there has been a slight change in numbers of its members due to various reasons, including the retirement of an investigator," a city government spokeswoman told AFP on 9 July, 2021. 

The city's "Epidemiological Investigation Supporting Team," which is designed to assist city districts' epidemiological investigation efforts, was suspended on February 28, 2021, more than one month before Oh was elected mayor.

The team was set to resume its operations on July 12, 2021, the spokeswoman said.

"The operation [the size and the time] of the supporting team is decided with flexibility as [Covid-19] circumstances change," she said.