How is the coronavirus effecting South Korea?

Data is changing by the hour and as this is written, Monday afternoon 10 February in South Korea, it looks like the total number of new daily cases globally are around 3 000. These are many but fewer than only a couple of days ago when it was around 4 000. Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of an end of this virus outbreak, but with all unknown aspects, it may just as well be the end of a beginning.

No casualties yet

South Korea is lucky not to have any casualties from the outbreak reported yet. Everybody is aware this may change any day and there are to date 30 reported having the virus, 4 are recovered, 2571 tested and 888 in observation.  

There are plenty of opportunities to follow news about the outbreak and while some data is hard to get, other data is surprisingly available. One example is the data on the movements of all individuals that are carrying the virus before they came to a hospital. You can follow these on a regularly updated map here.

The Korean government have evacuated 701 Korean citizens people from the quarantined city of Wuhan. They have been placed in government facilities in the city of Asan in South Korea and are under observation for the time being. The decision to place them in Asan has been met with strong protest from local inhabitants.

The Korean government is handling the virus outbreak with great seriousness. Public information abounds about how to act and where to turn in case of suspected infections. The President and the Prime Minister, lead pan-government meetings on response to the coronavirus, donning a yellow jacket used in times of public emergency and civil response. The Central Government as well as the Soul City Metropolitan Government, provide regular updates and “Danger Alerts” via text messages on the phone, banners on the streets and electronic signs on the highway. Disinfectants are provided on the bus, shops offer masks to customers that are not using one and you will find home-made signs in elevators requesting the use of facial masks.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun leading a Government meeting on response to the novel Corona virus outbreak.

The government has issued a flight ban against foreigners who have been in the Hubei province. Several schools have been temporarily shut down, and the Ministry of Education have recommended all Korean universities to postpone the opening of class to April instead of march. Daeboreum, a festival celebrating the first full moon of the new Lunar Year and normally an important event, have been cancelled by several regional governments. And many other public events and expos have been postponed or cancelled because of the outbreak.

There is a clear nervousness in Korea even if when asked, people seem not to fear for their own safety. Nervous or not, the streets and subways are not quite as crowded as normal. Shopkeepers say they have lost half their business while online shopping is skyrocketing. The Korean automakers Hyundai, Kia and SsangYong who depend on Chinese part-makers, have temporarily paused their operations. Electronic firms LG and Samsung suffer in similar ways as production in Chinese factories are halted. The Korean Won has lost value to the USD and gold prices have increased.

Korean businesses are struggling and while the country may be lucky and not get any casualties, several mom and pop stores can become “casualties” from their loss of business.

There are many reasons for the government to react decisive and firm to contain the virus outbreak and it would be hard to blame them for overdoing it. There is an election for the National Assembly in April, and nobody will want to be criticized for mismanaging the very challenging situation with a severe public outbreak of a dangerous virus.

For now, the future seems uncertain but we, the personnel at the Office of Science and Innovation in Seoul, are not particularly worried and we try not to let the virus outbreak effect our daily lives.

Authors: Arvin Gorginpaveh and Anders Hektor

Other resources

Open Source data on the individual cases in South Korea:

WHO daily reporting on the situation:

Baidu Tracker of daily new cases in China: