COVID-19 Risk Perception and Collectivist Behavior of Koreans
South Korea has been largely hailed as one of the best-prepared nations to combat the COVID-19 breakout. The East Asian country has been fairly successful in the “track and trace” investigation system through the newly created Epidemiological Investigation Support System (EISS), that pulls in credit card and smartphone data. Through this system, government authorities were able to trace and track contacts, identity virus carriers and prevent further spread.
The ethnically homogenous nature of the Korean people can also be attributed to the success of this so called “track and trace” system. With approximately 96% of the population being ethnic Koreans, collectivism has become a defining trait of the society. Collectivism in this context can be defined as a culture based on the hierarchical social structure which “subjugates the individual rights to the collective goods of society.”
This sentiment was highlighted perfectly during the COVID-19 outbreak as Korean citizens united in the fight against the virus, even if some measures may infringe on human rights.
Read more to see the surprising statistics and cultural nuances of Korean society during COVID-19.
1. COVID-19 Diagnosis versus the Fear of Stigma
In a nationwide survey, Koreans responded that the blame and the damage that would be met with a COVID diagnosis was worse than the actual diagnosis of the infection.
The trend only reversed in June, when it became more evident that infections are often spread unknowingly and sometimes without pattern.
Overall, there was a strong tendency to blame the individual patient for getting infected, as they were assumed to have not been “careful” enough or take enough preventative measures.
The general sentiment was that individuals who got infected with the virus could have “prevented it from happening.” Sentiments remained similar from May until late June.
2. Quarantine Measures and Infringement on Human Rights
Korea’s quarantine measures have been some of the strictest in the world. During a mandatory 14-day quarantine, individuals must register their address of quarantine and share location with the government. During these 14 days, the individual may not leave the premises and will be fined or deported for breaking quarantine rules.
When Koreans were asked if some of these debatable quarantine measures that could potentially infringe on human rights should be allowed, 44.3% of participants answered “yes.”
When asked if they agree that human rights should be placed as a second priority when dealing with a crisis such as a pandemic, almost four-fifths of surveyed Koreans (78.2%) answered “yes.”
3. Examining the Inequalities in Overcoming the economic crisis caused by COVID-19
When asked about the inequalities related to overcoming COVID-19, the most pressing issue was the lack of opportunities to be “compensated for economic damage” and to “have more flexible hours to prevent further infection.”
Equality perception to get treated for infectious diseases such as COVID-19 was high, with about 10.8% who expressed worry at receiving treatment.
Perhaps one of the most shocking takeaways from this survey is just how large a portion of Koreans were more scared of people thinking they were infected than actually being infected.
The fear of the stigma caused by being diagnosed with COVID-19 was far higher than the fear of being diagnosed with COVID-19 in Korean people. Overall, there was a high tendency of “blaming the individual for infection.”
This goes to show the aforementioned “collectivism” culture of Koreans, where human rights was willingly deferred to a lower level for the benefit of society. While western countries that operate on an egalitarian social structure are excellent arguers of individuals’ rights, many of those countries have paid a grave price at a time such as this.
There were many inequalities for those dealing with economic difficulties directly related to COVID-19, such as job insecurity and lower wages.
Though the country still remains one of the most ethnically homogenous in the world, Korea’s social trends is ever changing. It is safe to say, however, that the country’s handling of COVID-19 will surely have long term effects for years and decades to come.