What’s up with Korea and all these religious sects?
Is what my friend in the US asked me over text as we talked about the escalating coronavirus scare in Korea right now. Forget Patient zero, here it’s Patient 31 who is receiving all the spotlight. You might have heard how the Coronavirus outbreak has surged in Korea in the past week, mostly in the Daegu area, due to this “super spreader” who also is a member of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a religious group in Korea. Most of the new confirmed cases of COVID-19 since last week are Shincheonji members or related to the church, so naturally there’s been a lot of focus on this group. I woke up to the news this morning that the government has received a list of all church members to investigate their whereabouts and follow up with tests. It feels a little surreal.
To answer my friend’s question, I actually don’t know what’s up with all the religious sects. I’m not sure if there are actually more obscure religious groups from Korea than other countries, but it certainly does seem like it. Especially since there are more well-known ones that have made it overseas. But that’s not the point of this post.
These days the Korean news is all about Coronavirus, and even the stories that aren’t still manage to work in the topic. For example, there are upcoming National Assembly elections in April, but the candidates have had to postpone on-the-ground campaigning for obvious reasons. The sports news starts off with how professional sports events attendance has plummeted, and how the different sports associations and leagues are considering postponing the seasons.
The start of school (normally starts the beginning of March) has been postponed for a week. Stores have shorter operating hours and companies have started to implement flex work measures, like either working from home or shortened work hours (10 to 5, but have to work the extra two hours from home). Some companies have new policies in place, restricting anyone not wearing a mask from entering the workplace or requiring temperature checks at the door.
The recommendation being emphasized in mass media is to encourage people to go out about their daily lives (gotta support the domestic economy) but to avoid places with crowds. If you know Seoul, it might sound laughable to imagine a place without crowds, but actually the streets and public places are definitely less populated right now. Seoul Station, which is normally teeming with people, was eerily less busy over the weekend. And after the government raised the threat alert to the highest level, there is just a different vibe to the city. It’s more empty, more subdued, and everyone is masked. I feel like I’m in a dystopian movie.
Also prominent in the news is how other countries are reacting to Korea in terms of Coronavirus. There have been a smattering of stories of travelers from Korea being denied entry or shuttled into quarantine before they can take the first flight back. The CDC has issued the highest travel advisory for Korea as well. It’s an interesting change to be in the news for something not related to North Korea. Actually, quite the change to be more notorious than our northern neighbors right now.
Once this all passes, I am curious as to how this will affect immigration policies worldwide. Especially considering that it began in China and spread to Asia first, can’t overlook the race aspect.
I think the country is doing all it can towards containment, and I think the recent surging numbers are as much a reflection of the country’s thorough testing for the virus, as it is of the contagiousness of the disease. The number of confirmed patients in Korea may be the highest outside of China, but the mortality rate is still relatively low. In the meantime, all I can do is follow the government’s recommended safety measures: wear a mask, Dracula cough, and wash my hands vigilantly.
My thoughts on Coronavius from three weeks ago
And my thoughts continued a few days later