If any country can handle an outbreak like the coronavirus, it’s going to be South Korea. Yet, the small peninsula continues to climb to the top of headlines, and at one point, seemed to beat out China — the origin of the virus. However, South Korea’s rising numbers are a testament to their immediate and robust response to the disease, rather than evidence for you to cover your mouth when an Asian person enters the same train cart as you.
The numbers reported on coronavirus are admittedly daunting at first glance. A total of 6,000 confirmed cases in South Korea is a bleak contrast to the United States’ reported numbers, which haven’t seemed to surpass 500 cases. Although, the number of cases in the United States depends on what site you go to, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stopped publishing their coronavirus case counter on their site. Thereby, leading to more questions to America’s ability to handle a novel coronavirus.
Contrastingly, South Korea has tested over 140,000 of their citizens, implemented easy access drive-thru test centers and, in true Korean fashion, have released mobile apps which display where the last infected person visited. Daegu, the country’s current focal point of the virus after the Shincheonji cult continued to encourage attendance to their Sunday service despite the beginning warnings of the coronavirus, have sanitation trucks swiping across the streets.
“Citizens of Daegu,” the banner on the side of the truck reads, “please have strength. We will do our best to protect [the citizens] against COVID-19,” in both assurance of the South Korean government’s effort to contain coronavirus and encouragement to settle the minds’ of Daegu’s people.
That being said, rather than asking your Korean friends about their family back home, you may want to consider South Korea’s frequently ignored counterpart, North Korea. Kim Jong-Un and his nuclear weapons are the leading stories when discussing North Korea. Now, in the face of an ever-rapidly growing outbreak in a country with abysmal health care, its people must be put in the forefront of global concern, more than ever.
North Korea is encircled by both China and South Korea, making it a vulnerable petri-dish for disease despite its initial denial of any cases of coronavirus. Additionally, with strict travel bans along the North Korean and Chinese border, Kim Jong-un’s last shot in boosting their economy through Chinese tourism is decimated. Their already draconian borders limit the amount of trade going into the country, and with 90 percent of their trade being from China, the mobility and freedom of its citizens continues to worsen.
“North Korean refugees must travel thousands of miles through China to reach safety in Southeast Asia. With the current travel restrictions inside the country and increased identity checks, we cannot safely conduct rescue missions at this time,” writes Hannah Song, CEO of the non-profit organization, Liberty in North Korea (LiNK).
Song reports that LiNK has had to “modify” their approach in refugee rescues and resettlement programs in South Korea and have considered new travel routes and digital avenues to connect with refugees. The language is purposely vague, and it’s not due to a lack of transparency, but rather, due to fear of compromising rescue routes and avenues of refugees.
Despite their assurance in how they “are prepared for situations like this and … are taking every precaution possible,” the already impossible journey of North Korean refugees has become, quite literally, impossible.
North Korea’s historic inability to distribute equipment and aid to their people should be reason to crackdown on the Kim regime. It’s now not only a humanitarian crisis, but a global health crisis as well. Currently, the Red Cross has been given exemptions by the UN committee to deliver aid to North Korea. However, it’s simply not enough. If the world is so concerned about the extermination of coronavirus, countries like North Korea should be given the equipment and care to save their people from further devastation, and perhaps, even a cure to their current regime.
Jin Hee Park is the 2019-2020 Opinions Co-Editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.