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The Peninsula

Economic Worries Punctuate Public Attitude Towards New COVID-19 Infections

Published August 27, 2020
Author: Korea View
Category: South Korea

What Happened

  • An anti-government preacher and many members of his church tested positive for COVID-19 after a public demonstration.
  • Alarmed by the subsequent resurgence in COVID-19 cases, Seoul and its neighboring areas raised social distancing. This forced small and medium-sized businesses to close once again.
  • In response to the protesting preacher’s refusal to cooperate with health authorities, the police searched the church and seized information on its members.

Implications: South Korean public sentiments have little patience for groups that are seen as obstructing economic growth. Following the Bank of Korea’s projections in May that the South Korean economy was expected to contract by over 1 percent this year, the renewed cluster outbreak of COVID-19 raised fears that the country might face an even steeper economic decline. Notably, the government’s efforts to rally private consumption of goods and services from small and medium-sized businesses will be suspended as brick-and-mortar stores return to lock-down. In this environment, the public has been more permissive of the government’s stern response to members of the protesting church who have been uncooperative with public health measures.

Context: The government’s measures are not without their critics. Some see the government’s promotion of consumption as a factor that could have contributed to this new wave of outbreaks. Meanwhile, the urgency of the crisis has led to some key questions going unaddressed. In particular, the government’s ability to safeguard individual medical data while conducting aggressive contact tracing remains a major concern for privacy advocates. Beyond the question of technical feasibility, the government has yet to have a robust discussion with the people on potential trade-offs between public health and issues pertaining to civil liberties.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sophie Joo, Sonia Kim, and Chris Lee. Picture from flickr user Arnaud Matar

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