Last updated April 14, 2020 at 12:27 pm
Tasia Abbatecola in Seoul shares the local experience from one of the first countries hard hit by COVID-19 – South Korea.
Why This Matters: International perspectives show we’re all in this together.
First case reported 20 January
Cases 10,423; Deaths 204
(At midday local time on Thursday 9 April)
I first heard of this virus going around in China in January. Whilst maybe a little bit concerned, I didn’t really give it a lot of attention. What are the chances that this virus is ever going to affect me anyways? Pretty high, as it turns out.
I do remember the day I realised that this was, in fact, a big deal: it was in the beginning of February and I was sitting in a restaurant with my friend. We were laughing and singing along to some songs playing in the background. Suddenly all of our phones went off at the same time. Emergency alert. The Korean government sends them out to everyone’s phones, usually to warn us about the fine dust. Or heavy rain. But this time it was to tell us that the country was on red alert. That we should all stay home as much as we could because there was a deadly virus on the loose.
Elsewhere: From the COVID Frontline: Singapore
I had never experienced anything like that, so I didn’t really know what that meant for my life. But from the next day on, Seoul turned into a ghost town. It’s been two months and… I can’t possibly tell you how many K-dramas I have gone through. And wine bottles (sharing with my roomies, no judgment please. It’s been two months!).
Most complying with instructions to stay home
I also don’t really remember what it feels like to put on jeans or makeup. I rarely go out, so why bother? We’re not technically on lockdown. We’re allowed to go out. We’re just advised via emergency alerts not to. All. The. Time. And most people comply and stay inside. Life is not drastically different – because the government reacted so quickly and managed to contain the outbreak more or less – but there are still some changes, such as…
I had to start putting my phone on airplane mode because the emergency alerts wouldn’t stop and kept waking me up early mornings (never a good start into the day). They still send them out every time there is an update concerning the virus and whenever someone in my vicinity gets infected. Getting these alerts is stressful and comforting at the same time. But I like that they’re being transparent with the information.
Small businesses shut down because of the lack of customers. Everyone else has altered opening hours (they open later, close earlier). Every morning there is a huge queue in front of the pharmacies. There’s only a limited number of masks and you can only get a maximum of two per week. Everyone that’s outside is wearing a mask. There’s endless signs or loudspeaker announcements telling you to wear one, wash your hands and go get checked if you have any of the symptoms. Wherever you go, you’ll be reminded of the virus. So, better to stay inside anyways. And that’s what we do.
If in doubt – K-drama
My roommates and I scheduled drama nights for almost every night after work. We’ll get some food and yell at the TV together (anyone watching Crash Landing on You? ADDICTED). Or we’ll stream some concerts, since literally every single show we wanted to go to since February was cancelled. So really, we’re pretty lucky because we have the possibility to just comfortably wait it all out inside. And we’re more or less safe.
My only worries are my friends and family back in Europe. Finding flights from Korea to Europe is almost impossible at the moment, which is why I’ll just have to wait it out here without them. I’m pretty much stuck here since the rest of the world has banned travellers coming from South Korea. But there’s worse places to be stuck in.
The fight against the virus is not over yet, but I feel like South Korea is close to winning it. We’ve just gotta hold on and stay put for a little longer.