As of 0:00 on March 26, there are currently six confirmed COVID-19 cases in Jeju. The rate of incidence per 100,000 people is 0.89. The total number of confirmed patients in Korea is 9,241 on the same day. Among them, with 6,482, Daegu accounts for 70.14% of the total.
The proportion of Daegu is so high because a huge number was infected in a large worship service held by a religious group called Sincheonji on February 16th. COVID-19, known for its high infection rate, began to spread rapidly in Daegu after this service.
While it is not an incurable virus, the outbreak of a simultaneous, large-scale infection beyond the capacity of the medical system occurred in Daegu, starting a serious situation. Something similar to what happened in Wuhan, China, where the first infection began, or what is happening in Europe and the United States right now, happened a month ago in Korea.
South Korea had the second-largest number of confirmed patients in the world until very recently. It seemed to give the impression of the most infected nation, being banned from entering multiple countries. However, it became clear that it was due to the policy to reduce further patients—by identifying the infected in the shortest possible time through extensive diagnostic tests conducted across the country and quarantining them for treatment. Now, South Korea regarded as a country that has prevented the worst-case scenario, the helpless collapse of the medical system due to failing the initial response.
In the ongoing COVID-19 situation, Jeju’s cases remain at a single-digit. Half of them are those who recently returned from the European pandemic. In this sense, Jeju seems to cope quite effectively with the current crisis.
Nonetheless, the impact of COVID-19 is becoming enormously apparent. First, the temporary suspension of visa-free entry by Jeju Special Self-Governing Province on February 2nd has seriously damaged Jeju's local economy, where tourism is the main source of income. The social distancing movement led to the closure of all places where many people gather. Tourist spots had no choice but to be hit directly. Airlines reduced the number of flights and implemented unpaid leave for employees. The rate of stay in large hotels is less than 10%, and the duty-free shops are empty. Restaurants run by individuals are worried about their livelihood as customers are no longer coming through their doors.
Jeju Special Self-Governing Province is providing total support with a budget of 57.8 billion won, which includes the extension of the maturity of loans whose repayment date is due, as well as employment subsidies to prevent mass layoffs caused by economic hardships to support small business owners. In the aftermath of delays in school schedules, it has become difficult to consume eco-friendly agricultural products for school lunch. The province is also pursuing joint purchase strategies. However, if the situation is prolonged, these efforts will be inadequate.
At the private level, the Catholic Diocese of Jeju is making every effort to prevent the spread of the virus, suspending masses, and refraining from meetings and events. There is a sense of crisis that further spread will lead to the destruction of the entire region.
This is perhaps a common sense of crisis and pain that the world is suffering at the moment. Many people will come to understand why the social safety net is necessary through this incident, as well as the importance of the public health system. In some countries, the cost of medical care is forcing people to neglect the infections and the resulting tragedy that infected so many people have taught certain lessons. You may also find that hate and discrimination do not help in solving the situation whatsoever.
In certain dimensions, South Korea has a system that is superior to other countries. On the other hand, despite the strong warnings from CDC headquarters and the government, it also revealed our irrational aspects of conducting mass gatherings and worship services. All of these are part of the legacy of the civilization that humankind has created. While it is important to overcome the crisis at this moment, it will be more important to create a better world of humanity through the lessons we learn through this incident. Only then, the word “global village” fully demonstrate its potential.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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