South Korea Tries ‘Social Distancing’ to Prevent Coronavirus Spread

    06 March 2020

    An expression recently introduced by officials in Seoul closely describes life for many in South Korea these days: "Let's Take a Break from Social Life."

    The government is working to limit face-to-face interaction to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

    The outbreak in South Korea has mostly been contained to the area near the southeastern city of Daegu. But, officials across the country are not taking any chances. They have suggested "social distancing" measures to help keep people away from each other.

    Nearly every part of social life in South Korea has been affected. Schools and universities are closed. Many companies are asking their employees to work from home. Christian religious centers are holding their services over YouTube. And South Korea's soccer league has delayed the start of the season.

    In Seoul, the capital city and home to half the country's population, life goes on as usual -- only much more quietly. With many people staying home, Seoul's infamously crowded streets now flow much faster. Although people still use public transportation, many buses and trains are much less crowded. Noisy protests, which are common in Seoul, are now almost non-existent.

    Isolated, anxious

    As the outbreak in the country continues, many South Koreans are not only trying to prevent the disease, but also fight off boredom.

    "There is no more social life," said Rosa Lee, who lives in Seoul. "I'm working at home right now...not meeting anybody."

    Park Sun-kyung was forced to work from home after someone in her office building in central Seoul was confirmed to have the new coronavirus. "It's not very convenient - I need to be online all day," she said. "I'm an outgoing person...It is really frustrating to stay home and not meet with people."

    A woman wearing a face mask walks past South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear as they spray disinfectant on the street to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Seoul on March 6, 2020.
    A woman wearing a face mask walks past South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear as they spray disinfectant on the street to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Seoul on March 6, 2020.

    Social distancing

    All around the city, a marketing campaign urges people to take part in a two-week social distancing effort to halt the spread of the virus.

    "Hold on! Let's Take a Break From Social Life," one sign at a bus stop reads.

    Recommended steps include:

    "Refrain from going outdoors and avoid physical contact with others."

    "Keep in touch with people by using social media measures instead of meeting them personally."

    "Keep your personal hygiene by washing your hands and wearing a mask at all times."

    Such policies are not officially required, unlike in China, which forcibly locked down tens of millions of people to contain the spread.

    Mental health impact

    However, being separated this way could affect people emotionally and physically, public health experts warn.

    Jung Doo-young is with the UNIST Healthcare Center in Ulsan, about 300 kilometers from Seoul. Jung said, "If people are not active while staying inside, the body's natural rhythms could become disrupted."

    The effects could be worse for people with existing mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, said Kim Yoon-seok of Seoul's Margeun mental health treatment center.

    To help deal with possible problems, Seoul has set up a COVID-19 support group. COVID-19 describes the disease resulting from the virus. The group offers advice and information for dealing with coronavirus-related stress.

    I'm Ashley Thompson.

    William Gallo reported this story for VOA News. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    outbreak - n. a sudden start or increase of fighting or disease

    boredom - n. the state of feeling bored (tired or uninterested)

    convenient - adj. allowing you to do something easily or without trouble

    frustrating - adj. causing feelings of anger and annoyance

    refrain - v. to stop yourself from doing something that you want to do

    hygiene - n. the things that you do to keep yourself and your surroundings clean in order to maintain good health

    rhythms - n. a regular, repeated pattern of events, changes, activities, etc.

    disrupt - v. to cause (something) to be unable to continue in the normal way : to interrupt the normal progress or activity of (something)

    clinic - n. a place where people get medical help