Spread Like Wildfire
The Coronavirus spread very far, very quickly in South Korea in early 2020. One minute there were only a few cases and nobody was really concerned, then in just days there were thousands infected in one area of the country, Daegu. An infected member of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus was interacting closely with other members of the church and was deemed responsible for spreading it to thousands in the area in record speed.
Government Transparency and Emergency Alerts
The government responded quickly and efficiently by locking down the city, testing aggressively, and keeping the people informed. Testing was available almost immediately and accessible to all. South Korea had drive-through testing sites, large impromptu test sites outside of major bus stations, and of course testing at hospitals and healthcare centres.
The South Korean government excelled in transparency by alerting it’s citizens of all safety measures, infected areas and relevant statistics via emergency alerts to all cell phones.
Returning to Work
At the height of the pandemic fear, schools were closed down for about 8 weeks. The opening date was consistently pushed back because of new outbreaks across the country, and varying infection rates. During this time, the decision to have staff members come in was ultimately up to each school. I returned to work a few weeks earlier than my students to prepare for the changes that needed to be made. As the pandemic took us all by surprise, there were no previous measures in place to teach students while they remained at home. The process was entirely trial and error, from pre-recording classes to zoom meetings, half-day classes and eventually returning to school full-time. All staff and students were required to wear their masks at all times, take their temperatures in the morning and afternoon, enter and exit from one entrance, and sanitize classrooms regularly throughout the day. All seating was spaced out and lunch protocol had also changed to limit the amount of people in one space at a time.
Restrictions, Lockdowns and Rationing Masks
In our small town schools closed multiple times, as well as gyms, cafes, and some restaurants. Major businesses such as grocery stores, banks, retail stores, and of course, convenience stores stayed open and resumed all regular hours. Luckily, we never ran out of essentials such as food, toilet paper, sanitizers or soaps. However, masks were being rationed to three per person, once per week– dependant upon your birth year.
Safety Measures and Social Gatherings
One of the greatest benefits of being in South Korea during the pandemic was the freedom granted while still prioritizing safety. People were not locked down, but instead trusted to follow safety measures, track their whereabouts and limit social gatherings on their own. Clubs and bars mostly remained opened throughout the pandemic using QR Codes to track patrons and alert visitors of current and potential outbreaks. Although travel to bigger cities such as Seoul and Busan was discouraged, it was not illegal.