Defeating virus may be only half the battle

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Defeating virus may be only half the battle

 
Workers walk to their offices carrying dosirak (packaged meals) in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Sept. 1. [NEWS1]

Workers walk to their offices carrying dosirak (packaged meals) in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Sept. 1. [NEWS1]

Unity against Covid-19 in Korea has given way to division as the costs of the country's highly effective measures have started to take their toll. Contact tracing is eroding privacy, work-at-home is taxing camaraderie while those suspected of having been in a coronavirus hot spot are facing discrimination.
 
Some are gripped by fear, as their companies are realizing that essential workers are actually very few.
 
A 48-year-old employee at a manufacturer worries about being the first confirmed case at his workplace.
 
“While small businesses, private law firms or private practices care less about shutting their businesses, big companies need to be shut completely when an employee is confirmed to be infected to the virus. Then, the infected person becomes the culprit of the closure,” he said. “I may get infected as well, but I hope I'm not the first one in my company."  
 
He is particularly concerned about his life being reviewed with a fine tooth comb if he is found to be infected, with his every move reconstructed and put into a database, some of it made public.
 
Being patient zero at a company is a fear shared by many. Their infection could lead to a major loss for the company, and they would be blamed.  
 
Another 45-year-old man has also been doing all his work by phone instead of visiting his clients since the Covid-19 outbreak. The man said he never goes out to drink with his friends or even to the funerals of acquaintances.  
 
“If I get infected with the virus at this age, the company would take some action that might be to my disadvantage,” he said. “There is nothing I can do but be very cautious so I don’t get infected by the virus.”  
 
Growing fear about the coronavirus results in increasing distrust among people.  
 
A man who currently works for a retailer said he is even reluctant to visit his company’s branch stores.  
 
“Although I know that my company thoroughly disinfects its stores, I can’t guarantee that they are completely free from the virus as so many people visit and touch everywhere,” he said. “I used to have casual drinks with the parents of my kid’s kindergarten friends after work, but now we don’t trust each other anymore.”  
 
A man who works for a financial firm was recently forced to take a week off even though he tested negative for Covid-19.  
 
“I thought it would be okay because I tested negative, but it seemed like my colleagues no longer welcome me going to the office,” he continued. “It’s understandable, but it’s not like I committed a crime or something.”    
 
 
U-Space square of Pangyo Techno Valley, Gyeonggi, is unusually quiet after workers were ordered to work at home amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19. [YONHAP]

U-Space square of Pangyo Techno Valley, Gyeonggi, is unusually quiet after workers were ordered to work at home amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19. [YONHAP]

Remote working has become problematic as well. After many Korean companies ordered their employees to work from home, complaints started mounting over the side effects of the system.  
 
Miscommunication and conflicts between team members are common these days as employees are only allowed to talk through text messages or online. Making the bad situation worse, as all kindergartens and schools have been closed, employees with kids at home find it difficult to concentrate.  
 
Restructuring is a major concern.  
 
“After the remote work was ordered, I was surprised how few people were actually needed to run the company," an executive at a large company said. "This means that the company can possibly outsource the remainder in the future. Layoffs will become the next big issue.”  
 
According to Mindroute Leadership Lab CEO Lee Kyung-min, who worked as a psychiatrist for over 20 years, Koreans must be ready to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, which may last for about two to three years.  
 
“Instead of just thinking over and over again about the difficulty that you are facing, if you concentrate on what you can do during the hardship, it would make the difficulty less tough,” Lee said. “I recommend all to work normally and more positively despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Then, they will be given better opportunities in the future.”  
 
Lee also emphasized that Koreans must face the reality.  
 
“Even after the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation can never go back to how things used to be,” Lee added. “It is now time for Koreans to think more independently how they can survive not depending on their companies.”
 
BY LEE SO-AH, CHEA SARAH   [chea.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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