Yesterday marked exactly three years since the first COVID-19 patient was reported in Korea. The decrease in confirmed cases, deaths and critically ill patients is clearly visible. Starting Jan. 30, the indoor mask regulations will be eased from “mandatory” to “recommendation.” After passing through the long tunnel of the pandemic, we are finally about to resume pre-COVID-19 normalcy in our day-to-day life. It will be a great weight off the mind of many as they spend the Lunar New Year holiday with family face-to-face.
Due to the coronavirus, society had to go through unprecedented confusion and abrupt changes. As the number of infections surged seven times with successive mutated coronaviruses, the cumulative number of confirmed cases over three years reached a whopping 29,955,366 (as of Friday midnight). The ripple effect of the virus was so intense that 60% of the Korean population was infected in total, with the death toll exceeding 30,000. Strong quarantine measures have tremendously impacted all facets of life, including society, education, and the economy. It will take a considerable amount of time to achieve full recovery.
The COVID-19 pandemic left behind deep scars. Students unable to go to school due to school closures are experiencing problems such as compromised social skills and reduced academic achievement. Prolonged use of masks negatively affected children's language development. Up to 70% of adults also experienced depression called “COVID blue” caused by a prolonged isolated life of no-in-person, no contact. The economic impact of the virus has been extremely severe as well. Due to business restrictions such as social distancing, numerous self-employed and small business owners were forced to close their businesses. Inflation triggered by large-scale COVID subsidies coupled with the global supply chain crisis led to the three worst combinations of high prices, high-interest rates, and high exchange rates, which in turn have pushed the vulnerable to the cliff’s edge.
The daily life that the pandemic changed has presented new possibilities as well. With the spread of telecommuting, a new work culture, such as remote work and workation, has emerged, and a foundation has been laid to discuss telemedicine in earnest. The strengths of the "contactless era" boasting efficiency and convenience are areas that need to be further explored in the future.
The COVID pandemic is coming to an end, but we are not out of the woods yet from crippling attacks caused by a noble virus. A new infectious disease may sweep across the world again. The World Health Organization and major countries have already started preparations for the possibility of a second or third pandemic. Korea should reorganize its healthcare system and expedite the advancement of vaccine-related medical technologies. The pandemic has given us a lot of homework to work on, from reducing the educational attainment gap and the gap between rich and poor to healing the wounds caused by isolation. It is high time that we usher in the ‘post-COVID’ era by solving these problems one by one.