By Park Jun-young WIRED Korea
Wearing a face mask and applying an alcohol-based hand sanitizer have become a new normal. Avoiding meeting friends and shaking hands with others are another feature of the lifestyle that is changing after the outbreak of COVID-19, a highly contagious epidemic that is wreaking havoc on Korea.
It is not just ordinary people that are not shaking hands with others. President Moon Jae-in was kept from shaking hands when he recently visited the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a pep talk with public health officials who are stretched too thin in their fight against the pandemic.
“Given the condition (under which we find ourselves), we cannot shake hands when we are exchanging greetings, as we are doing now,” he said. “I believe you will do your best so that we will come out of the tunnel and go back to life as usual.”
Though he did not shake hands with the staff, he met them face to face. But that is not what ordinary people would like to do. Many people choose to limit meeting people in close proximity except for a necessary few occasions. For fear of contagion, some even avoid pressing buttons with their fingers to call an elevator. Instead, they are using small objects for the job.
Fear has turned viral since members of a Christian cult have trudged many nooks and crannies of the country without reporting their symptoms to the public health authorities.
It is members of Shincheonji that are held responsible for fueling the spread of COVID-19 at a time when it was on the verge of being placed under control.
Those with symptoms came in physical contact with many others when they participated in services held in small spaces. Among them were people who returned home from their reported missionary work in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.
As of March 3, 4,527 of the 10,914 members in Daegu, a metropolis hardest hit by the novel coronavirus, tested and 2,792 were confirmed to have contracted the disease. Many other members tested positive outside of Daegu, 320 km southeast of Seoul.
It is understandable why Koreans take extreme precaution and change their lifestyle, given that the number of confirmed cases in Korea, which is approaching the 8,000 mark, was once the largest outside of China. Later Korea was surpassed by Iran and Italy.
A sudden change in lifestyle is confirmed by a March survey of consumer behaviors by KOBACO, a government-funded public media representative. Three quarters of the respondents said they are restraining themselves from going out of home. Eight out of every 10 said they would rather watch video contents on television, a smartphone or a PC than going out.
Yet, some have to work in a crowded office despite their fear of the respiratory disease, as in the case involving those manning a call center in Guro District, Seoul. Of the 207 employees there, 109 have so far tested positive.
To help contain the epidemic, an increasing number of corporations are shutting their offices, ordering their managers and employees to work from home. Some others have put their employees on temporary leave.
Reflecting the trend, demand for the use of remote-work, collaborative–work and messenger platforms and solutions are on the rise. RSupport, a provider of solutions for work from home and remote work, reported on March 5 that the time of Remote Meeting, its videoconferencing service, being used by customers almost doubled from February 27.
RSupport said the number of its clients surpassed the 1,700 mark. It expects more will subscribe to its service, with Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon threatening to close call centers and other offices vulnerable to mass contagion when they fail to follow his metropolitan government's social distancing regulations.
Also benefiting from the epidemic spread is ESTsoft, a provider of collaborative-work platform TeamUp, which reported a 33.3 percent increase in subscription since the outbreak of the respiratory disease.
Fear of the novel coronavirus has led to a change in the management by corporations of their employees’ entry into office. Many gateways are equipped with a face recognition and thermal screening system like SKtelink’s Walk Through Gate. A company using the system lets its employees in without tagging their ID cards on a card reader or putting their thumbs on a fingerprint reader.
A recruitment process is also undergoing changes, with an increasing number of companies opting video-conferencing technology for interviews with employment seekers over the usual practice of conducting face-to-face interviews. And offline written tests for recruitment are being replaced by online ones.
On March 11, SK Innovation said it would replace face-to-face interviews with online interviews. Job seekers can simply connect their notebooks or PCs to the company’s server for an interview with the company official in charge.
Kim Sang-ho, head of the Human Resources Development Office at SK Innovation, said, “By adopting a new recruitment process, we will be participating in the (government-led) social distancing campaign and normalizing our hiring process that has been suspended (because of the novel virus epidemic).”
The original Korean-language article is found at <일상과 업무환경 완전히 바꾼 '코로나19'>
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