Apologies for being Korean

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Apologies for being Korean

The author is a deputy editor of international news at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Last week, I met an American citizen named Jose on my Korean flight coming home from a business trip to Washington. He was a passenger seated next to me and said “Hi,” with a signature American outgoing smile. After he got seated, he took out an ethanol spray. With a level of aggression worthy of a gold medal in the disinfection Olympics, Jose started to clean everything around him. He even video-called his family for “inspection” and wore a mask. I express my deep respect to Jose for not moving at all for 13 hours of the flight. It was the first time in my life that I felt sorry I was a Korean.

Throughout the business trip, the novel coronavirus, or Covid-19, outbreak in Korea was the top news story on all American news programs. Hosts of “Good Morning America” reported on the coronavirus in Daegu as the first story at 7 a.m. every day. Imagine my feelings at seeing an ambulance with Korean characters on television so far away. One of my interviewees, with an infant, said she would prefer a phone interview to a face-to-face meeting. I read “Covid-19” between the lines. Fortunately, it was before the U.S. government considered banning Koreans from entering the country. I felt bitter.

Of course, aggressive testing and transparent information release in Korea is a fact. But is it something to be proud of? It’s like boasting that damages on my apartment are inspected faster than my neighbors when an apartment complex is on fire. If you have the time, you must focus on extinguishing the fire. That’s how I felt as President Moon Jae-in said that our testing capacity is world-class. A Blue House secretary joined the chorus by stressing that our patients are rapidly diagnosed with overwhelmingly fast testing. The opposition should not raise their voice either, as they haven’t done anything right.

Looking at our politicians — liberals or conservatives — I don’t see anyone who is 100 percent focused on driving out the deadly virus. What does it help to attack the president for not apologizing for the fiasco, and what does it mean to propose cooperation on disinfection with North Korea when South Korea is in chaos?

Both sides are using Covid-19 as a political tool. Let’s forget about joining the ranks of the developed countries for now. The birth rate will go down further in the long run, but there’s no need to accuse Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha of allowing some 80 countries to restrict entries of Koreans. She didn’t cause this crisis.

I am more afraid of the novel virus. I don’t want to be sorry because I am Korean. The country I know is not this one.
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