Korea and the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Welcome to Korea! Now stay indoors and self-quarantine.

A very accurate representation of me getting to Korea

What is the Coronavirus?

Description of COVID-19 (Co: Corona, Vi: Virus, D: Disease, 19: 2019)

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was first identified in Wuhan (Hubei, China) and has now spread globally.

Many cases have mild symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath), but some cases progress to pneumonia and multi-organ failure.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a pandemic on 11 March 2020.

What’s the situation like in Korea?

I have now lived in Korea for a little over one month and have seen some of the impacts of COVID-19 and the government’s responses to it.

Thankfully, Korea has continually been taking steps to flatten the curve of new infections. And it seems to me that the government’s response during this crisis has been critical in stopping the spread of the virus.

Measures put into effect

In late February, the Coronavirus spiked from a few dozen cases to several thousand in a short period of time.

However, measures were swiftly taken to prevent the spread of new infections.

As you walk around Seoul, you'll find signs strung up all around to inform citizens of what to do to decrease the chances of catching COVID-19.
As you walk around Seoul, you’ll find signs strung up all around to inform citizens of what to do to decrease the chances of catching COVID-19.
Widespread testing

As last I heard, Korea had been producing 100,000 testing kits a day.

And not only have testing kits been readily available for citizens, but everyone has been able to get tested for free.

To make matters even more convenient, there are two kinds of places you can go to get tested at:

  • Testing centers
    • Around 600 testing centers were opened to screen people so that hospitals and clinics did not feel overwhelmed.
  • Drive-through stations
    • Enables people to get tested without having to leave their car. This is a convenient option because people can feel safer in the comfort of their car, and no waiting room has to be disinfected between visitors.
    • The process takes approximately 10 minutes – this includes a questionnaire, remote temperature scan, and a throat swab.
    • Results are typically texted to you in a day.

By the looks of it, it appears that testing has played a major role in the containment of the virus, because it has led to its early detection.

A snapshot of early COVID-19 testing
Contact tracing

Once someone tests positive for the coronavirus, their recent movements are traced through what they say, CCTV footage, data from their car or phone, and credit card records. This process is known as contact tracing.

Keeping infected patients quarantined

Those with mild symptoms are put in special centers or in quarantine. Hospitals have been reserved for patients with serious symptoms.

Infected individuals under quarantine must download an app on their phone. If they decide to leave their isolation, it will alert officials of them having done so. Fines range up to $2,500 for violating quarantine.

Keeping citizens well-informed

The public has been continually kept in-the-loop.

Emergency alert texts. Whenever new cases are discovered in an area, phones will receive a text message alerting people of this.

Apps/websites. Apps and websites have been created to give timelines of where infected patients have been.

Informative signs. They typically include suggestions on how to remain safe (e.g., reminding citizens to wear a mask, to wash their hands properly, and to cover their mouth if they sneeze or cough).

Signs can be found throughout subway stations in Seoul that share preventative measures against and information about COVID-19.
Signs can be found throughout subway stations in Seoul that share preventative measures against COVID-19.

Announcements. Throughout the day, announcements are broadcasted in subway stations on how to remain safe from the coronavirus.

In my opinion, being kept in-the-loop has been incredibly helpful, as you don’t feel like you are being misdirected by rumors of what might or might not be a helpful practice to engage in.

Getting public help and cooperation

The public’s cooperation has been necessary in order to help slow down the cases of infection.

Hand sanitizer dispensers are found at practically every bus stop for the public to use.
Hand sanitizer dispensers are found at practically every bus stop for the public to use.

Thermal imaging cameras have been set up in certain buildings throughout the city. In order to go into these places, you will need to get your temperature read to confirm whether or not you have a fever.

The government and work places have also been asking many of those who have come from abroad, including myself, to self-quarantine for a period of 2 weeks and to check our temperatures daily. If anything felt off during this time, we were asked to call a specific helpline.

As a result of keeping the public well-informed and enlisting their help, there has been a lot of voluntary cooperation and civic awareness. Panic has been low and citizens have not been hoarding items. Instead, grocery stores are fully shelved with food, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper.

Grocery stores are packed with food, sanitizer can still be found everywhere, and there is an endless amount of toilet paper.
Grocery stores are packed with food, sanitizer can still be found everywhere, and there is an endless amount of toilet paper.
Postponing schools

Schools had first been postponed from opening from the beginning of March to March 13th, after which they had been postponed yet again to the 23rd, and now to April 6th.

Making certain that masks are available

Masks have been available for the public to purchase from pharmacies.

At first, masks were more on a “first-come, first-serve” basis – with a limit. But that tactic didn’t seem to be working, because some individuals would not be able to get to them before they ran out.

Therefore, a new 5-day rotation system was implemented by the government for mask distribution. Individuals can only get two masks on one specific day of the week.

The last digit of your birth year will decided your day:

MondayBirth year ends with 1 or 6
TuesdayBirth year ends with 2 or 7
WednesdayBirth year ends with 3 or 8
ThursdayBirth year ends with 4 or 9
FridayBirth year ends with 5 or 0
WeekendThose unable to purchase
masks during the week.

It seems like prices for masks are skyrocketing or masks are nowhere to be found in many places around the world. In Korea, however, prices have remained fixed at 1,500₩ per mask.

Furthermore, your weekly allowance of masks (2) will not rollover to the next week if you do not purchase any. And you can’t have someone else buy the masks for you. Citizens must bring with them their ID card, foreigners must bring their ARC (alien registration card) and national health insurance papers, and minors need to bring a passport, residential registration, or their school ID.

Seoul in style. Everyone is required to wear a mask outside at all times. Many stores will also have signs asking that you wear a mask before entering.

Basic measures to protect yourself from COVID-19

3 simple measures to take to be better protected against the coronavirus:

  1. Wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer. By washing your hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, you will be able to kill the viruses that might be on your hands.
  2. Don’t touch your face. By touching a surface that has the virus, you can easily transfer it to your body through your eyes, nose, or mouth .
  3. Check your temperature regularly and be aware of other symptoms. If you develop a fever or begin having respiratory problems, seek medical advice right away.

And as suggested by the World Health Organization, stay aware of the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak to remain up-to-date.

Find more information about preventative measures against COVID-19 on the WHO’s website.

Some quotes to reflect on

The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. If you meet those of a different race and colour from yourself, do not mistrust them and withdraw yourself into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness.


May your minds be ever bent upon the needs of the communities to which you belong, the condition of the societies in which you live, and the welfare of the entire family of humanity, to whom you are all brothers and sisters.

The Universal House of Justice, 2020

Humanity will ultimately pass through this ordeal, and it will emerge on the other side with greater insight and with a deeper appreciation of its inherent oneness and interdependence.

The Universal House of Justice, 2020

Share with us in the comments below some good deeds you’ve seen in recent times. Let’s share the love!