"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Over 52 million people live in Korea, not including temporary foreign workers. Even if just one mask was supplied to each person, the current production capacity would not even last one week. Even a mere child knows that as demand exceeds supply, it is natural to wait in line.
Nevertheless, there have been no news stories of Koreans fighting in line to buy masks like in Japan or paying exorbitant amounts of money – over US$5,900 for a single mask in Italy. The whole world is suffering through a mask shortage crisis, yet the Korean nation continues to remain calm and civilized throughout it all.
Fortunately, the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Korea is on the decline due to its quick and effective response. That is why other countries dealing with a surge in the number of confirmed cases are looking to Korea for guidance on how to handle it so smoothly. Indeed, we have even seen several foreign news articles saying that the U.S. should learn from Korea's measured response to the crisis.
Many factors have contributed to this success including Korean citizens' social distance, the government's transparent disclosure of information, medical staff's outstanding diagnostic skills and a strong sense of mission. However, there is one overriding contributing factor that the world should pay attention to and that is the resoluteness and resiliency of the people of South Korea. These strong national characteristics have been gained by enduring and overcoming many challenges and threats in the past.
For instance, last year, when Japan suddenly suspended the export of critically important raw goods needed for manufacturing semiconductors in Korea, in violation of GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement), there was immediate panic in Korea. To be frank, Koreans used to have a secret defeatist mindset that they were no match for Japan.
However, they were able to move forward and invest in parts, materials and equipment industries to ensure a stable domestic supply of materials; thus taking advantage of the blessing in disguise that the GSOMIA crisis turned out to be. This experience helped Koreans shed their inferiority complex regarding Japan and deeply realize that their national power was strong enough to successfully compete with Japan in terms of economic power, not just in soccer. Even though it hasn't even been a year and yet we have forgotten that happened.
Only when the darkness is deepest can the smallest lights be seen more clearly. When it's so chaotic like this, the advance of Korea’s bio ventures clearly stands out. The coronavirus crisis has been an opportunity for some Korean bio industries to demonstrate their exceptional ability to provide quality solutions. It is almost as if Heaven has sent down this crisis to highlight Korea’s progress and excellence in the highly competitive world of the international pharmaceutical industry stage dominated by big capital.
In addition, Korea's 5G communication technology can track people's movements in minutes, and CCTVs spread out through the streets vividly show the person confirmed with coronavirus contacting other people. Therefore, Korea's investment in information and communication infrastructure has been shown to be among the best in the world. Transparency in Korea has been achieved in collaboration with students from Korea University and Sejong University who have voluntarily developed tracking apps that have been invaluable in dealing with this crisis.
Despite all of these technological advancements and quick control of the situation in Korea, most people are heartbroken there. The streets are dead, and restaurants are empty. More and more countries are restricting entry.
Many of Korea’s largest churches have voluntarily canceled Sunday services. It might be also surprising to Martin Luther. Just like in China where banknotes are collected, disinfected or discarded, this crisis seems to be advancing a cashless society in Korea as well. The Coronavirus seems to be hastening the demise of the already difficult offline distribution industry. Other changes include the spread of online education and an increase in telecommuting has been put to the test.
But remember, "This, Too, Shall Pass Away." The wounds heal and the stories are forgotten, but today's lessons are deeply recorded in the people's DNA and passed on to later generations.
As we have never experienced a situation quite like this one before, it is only natural to feel afraid and nervous. However, the Korean people are no stranger to overcoming extreme national hardship and they will rise to the challenger as they always do. We will endure with pride and when the inevitable Korean-Japan soccer match is held during the Olympics in Japan, we will enjoy chicken and beer to our heart’s content. Won’t that be a great exciting moment?