Life Feels Safe in South Korea Right Now
Living as an expat in Korea as they embrace a new normal while my family back in America continues to suffer from an incompetent response
Watching from abroad as Covid-19 eats its way across America feels like sitting through a poorly written dark comedy. Except, I am not witnessing an actor play the role of an egomaniacal leader who bumbles his way through mismanaging a made-up virus as thousands of nameless fake citizens of a fake country die. Instead, from South Korea, I am on the phone with my brother, quarantined in NYC; my grandmother who can’t see anyone because this virus could kill her; and my nurse friend who tells me his new responsibilities include holding up an iPad so family members can say goodbye to their loved ones from a safe distance, before they die.
When I talk to my friends and family, I sometimes forget their situation. I’ll say, “So, I was at the gym… I was getting a massage yesterday… I was at work…” and they’ll stop me and say, “Wait, how long were you in quarantine?” And I have to clarify, “We were never quarantined. South Korea acted in time and did a really great job with testing and tracing, so things were well contained.”
Now, three months later, as life tiptoes its way toward a new normal, and as America looks to do the same, I find myself noting all of the ways life has changed here in an ongoing effort to keep this virus contained.
Everyone is wearing a mask
From the first week of February, Koreans were wearing masks. I, admittedly, didn’t start wearing one until weeks later when it became clearer how necessary this was. It is now undeniable that this behavior has prevented the virus from spreading. Every workplace, every store, everywhere you look, people are — and have been — wearing masks. The government created a program to control the supply so that people could only buy three at a time, and only on days that matched the final number in their date of birth. In this way, the government limited the ability to hoard, and ensured everyone had fair access to protection.
Effective contact tracing is the greatest comfort here in Korea. If you have…