It’s not over

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It’s not over

Bae Myung-bok
The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.


Recently, I had a meeting with a professor from a university in Seoul. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, he said he gave online lectures throughout this year. He said the experience was completely different between the first semester and the second. During the first semester, he and his students did not know how to use the Zoom program. In the second semester, the lectures were very satisfying because everyone was accustomed to the new environment. He said the quality of student participation was far higher when the lectures were conducted remotely online.

The professor, who gives a three-hour lecture once a week, offered contents a day earlier than the schedule to allow students to prepare. He lectured for one hour based on the prep materials. As he could discuss more content more systemically, the lecture was more in-depth, he said. He spent the final two hours in a question-and-answer session, and the students participated more actively than before. They did not have to worry about the reactions of students sitting next to them as they did in ordinary lectures.

“After the pandemic ends, I want to mix online and offline lectures. That will be much more effective,” he said. “The pandemic will be a trigger to transform our current education system.”

As students do not have to stay on campus for online lectures, some universities are starting to offer weekly rent contracts for dormitory rooms, rather than semester contracts. Private tutoring institutions have also started changing. Real-time, online lectures are available as long as you have Internet connections. Not only students living outside Seoul but also students living overseas can sign up for lectures offered by competitive cram schools in Daechi-dong, southern Seoul.

Over the past year, we have experienced the weakness of human beings. At the same time, we witnessed our ability to respond to crisis. Companies are increasingly using it as an opportunity. Korean Air recorded profits during the second and third quarters by using passenger planes for cargo flights. Sales of companies using online platforms increased noticeably and jobs in the sector also went up.

Some companies found unexpected opportunities. High-income office workers and professionals who are now working from home are spending money to buy luxurious audio equipment, home appliances, interior decoration and furniture, instead of using the money for travel and eating out. As a result, those industries are seeing increases in sales.

As working from home can become a new normal after the pandemic, more people are choosing to live in rural areas. In Manhattan, home prices are going down, while prices of houses in the suburbs are going up. The online education market for children living outside cities also is expected to grow.

Europe lost one-third of its populations — 20 million — during the mid-14th century because of the Black Death. The bubonic plague dealt a fatal blow to feudal society and the absolute power of the church. That pandemic was a starting point for the Renaissance and religious reform. The Covid-19 pandemic can be a game changer that opens up a new path of civilization for a human race that has neglected the environment and future generations.

It was a form of arrogance that we have chosen to overcome pandemics with the invention of treatments and vaccines. Normally, it takes a decade to develop a vaccine, but humankind managed to do it for Covid-19 within 10 months. Such an achievement is praiseworthy, but it is not a cure-all. As there will be mutated forms of the novel coronavirus down the road, we will never know what happens next.

When the bubonic plague spread, people in Europe marked the doors of houses where patients were living by painting a red cross. They stopped the people’s movements and patients were isolated. Nothing has changed. Making public the movement of a patient is like marking a patient’s door with a red cross. Tracking down movements of patients and isolating them also have not changed. The Moon Jae-in administration’s disease control and prevention measures are all based on traditional methods, although it proudly promotes them at home and abroad.

The Moon administration is hesitant to elevate the social distancing level to the highest Level 3 because it wants to maintain the notion that it stopped the pandemic without lockdowns. It may be allowing the spread of infections to promote that self-congratulatory idea. It is also possible that we will still be inside a dark tunnel when other countries vaccinate their people and achieve herd immunity. In case the vaccine has a critical ill-effect, it can offer an opportunity for Korea, as we will only know the answer when it all ends.

It’s not over until it’s over. There is no reason to promote the Korean-style control and prevention system and there is no reason to be disappointed for not having vaccines. It won’t be over when Korea is over with Covid-19. It is only over when all countries are over with the pandemic. It is not an issue we can resolve by getting anxious. Let us prepare for a second season of Covid-19 in 2021 with humble and calm minds.
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