SEOUL: The web site of South Korea’s public well being authority presently options a picture of a well dressed girl and man carrying masks whereas posing in entrance of a mishmash of signboards written in Chinese language characters.
In depicting two people who find themselves remaining calm whereas exercising warning as a brand new coronavirus afflicts the nation and companies and households brace for disruption, the federal government seems to be telling its folks: Don’t panic however do put on a masks.
Subsequent to the photograph is a message imploring all South Koreans to participate in efforts to forestall the unfold of coronavirus, a mysterious new sickness within the nation.
Whereas the federal government is asking on the nation as an entire to work to maintain South Korea secure, this newest well being scare underscores the truth that on this nation, it’s nonetheless the federal government that’s accountable for administration throughout difficult instances.
South Korea this week reported two instances of the brand new coronavirus that seems to have originated within the Chinese language metropolis of Wuhan and has additionally been reported in Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Japan.
The variety of instances in China grew to greater than 800 this week, elevating fears of a world pandemic, with even the US reporting a case.
In an unlucky little bit of timing, whereas South Koreans are fretting over the illness this week, the nation introduced its weakest financial progress because the international monetary disaster of a decade in the past.
Of late, South Korea’s export-dependent economic system has handled tremors from the commerce battle between the US and China, in addition to the nation’s personal spat with Japan.
In saying the weak progress figures, a central financial institution official highlighted how the brand new coronavirus might pose a danger to consumption as occurred in 2015 when there was an outbreak of the Center Jap Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) within the nation.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
South Korea’s economic system must be much less weak than ever to a public well being disaster, as there are actually methods for companies to keep up operations with staff not being in the identical bodily house.
This can be a nation with a few of the most generally accessible Wi-Fi connection wherever on the earth, that means that it wouldn’t be troublesome for staff to be simply as productive from dwelling.
However regardless of having the technological infrastructure, South Korea has typically been gradual to adapt to office evolutions like distant working.
The nation’s traditions of collectivism nonetheless posit that each one members of a crew ought to, every time doable, be collectively within the workplace for the entire day. Somebody who means that they would favor to spend the day at dwelling by themselves than within the workplace with the crew could be seen as egocentric or anti-social.
Past belief or notion points, there’s a deeper drawback of a risk-averse tradition in South Korea that deters employers from taking such daring strikes.
A RISK-AVERSE CULTURE
If South Korea appears danger averse, a part of this can be defined by the nation’s nationwide psyche.
Having fought a harmful civil battle within the early 1950s, many Koreans have been left feeling that the nation acquired a late begin and needed to work more durable than others to develop.
Having constructed a profitable economic system, Korean policymakers generally concern potential blowback from dangerous strikes.
That considering can also be prolonged to organisational cultures, the place newer additions comparable to versatile work preparations and distant working are deemed contrarian to and will dilute the ethos of a powerful work ethic constructed into the nationwide psyche.
I keep in mind years in the past one profitable Korean businessman telling me over dinner, “You within the West had a head begin on us. We misplaced our nation as soon as. We can not lose it once more.”
A DEEPER PROBLEM
That danger averse mind-set additionally extends to the federal government, which has been going through criticism for stifling innovation.
A telling instance is the case of Tada, a ride-sharing service. The nation’s giant and vocal taxi foyer efficiently pushed the federal government to enact laws that may ban Tada from working, arguing that the corporate might push conventional taxis out of enterprise.
To many, the case of Tada despatched the message that the Korean authorities is extra concerned about defending vested pursuits than in selling innovation.
This week, in a case native media dubbed “revenge of the nerds,” a gaggle of tech entrepreneurs launched a political motion with the hope of pushing by regulatory reform that may create situations for innovation.
The founders describe being annoyed on the authorities who promise to ease purple tape, then fail to comply with by.
Based on one founder, South Korea has missed out on probabilities in cloud, huge information, drones, autonomous driving, blockchain and sharing-economy expertise due to the laws.
GOVERNMENT SIGNAL IS KEY
That notion of an indecisive authorities was additionally reienforced over the past epidemic outbreak in South Korea – MERS in 2015. Many listed below are making comparisons with that episode to query if issues can be managed higher this time round.
The South Korean public was crucial of the federal government in 2015 for bungling its response to the outbreak by failing to correctly implement quarantine measures and never sharing data transparently with the general public.
READ: Commentary: Wuhan virus sparks questions over local Chinese officials’ disclosure of information
Nonetheless, though 36 folks died out of 186 reported instances, MERS by no means snowballed into the full-blown pandemic many feared, however the uncertainty surrounding the ailment took a toll on South Korea’s economic system, resulting in steep drops in journey and plenty of types of shopper spending.
This time round, the nation’s public well being authorities look like extra decisive in taking steps to handle the danger of contagion. Airports and seaports have introduced stepped-up screening measures, with separate procedures for flights from Wuhan.
However that boldness and decisiveness from the federal government should lengthen wider.
In instances of disaster in South Korea, it’s the authorities that’s anticipated to steer. South Koreans look to official establishments for tips, and if issues don’t go properly, it’s the federal government that will get the blame.
Equally, companies and organisations will even be seeking to indicators from the federal government in implementing working preparations to include the dangers to the workforce and the economic system.
Satirically, the outbreak of this virus might present the federal government with a chance to ease versatile working preparations into the office tradition in South Korea. That is probably not a foul factor in taking a step in the direction of a extra modern and risk-taking tradition general.
Extra pressingly, if the South Korean authorities is critical about not letting the Wuhan virus take a major hit on its economic system, then implementing enterprise continuity processes is a vital step that has to come back sooner relatively than later.
Throughout MERS in 2015, the gradual response and lack of transparency by the federal government noticed measures to include the virus comparable to college closures and making public the record of hospitals affected with instances carried out nearly a month after the primary case in Could.
Even then, with none clear sign from the federal government and lax isolation or quarantine measures, few corporations applied enterprise continuity processes to isolate their employees from the dangers.
Within the coming days, we’ll learn the way a lot the South Korean authorities has realized from the expertise with MERS.
Yesterday, my cellphone buzzed with an pressing message from the federal government, the type of textual content they ship out when monsoon rains create danger of flood, or when air air pollution rises to harmful ranges, imploring everybody to clean their fingers, cowl their mouths when coughing, and sure, put on a masks.
I hope to obtain one other such authorities alert quickly that advises employers to take the required steps to guard their enterprise processes, together with permitting their employees to make money working from home.
Steven Borowiec is the politics editor of Korea Expose.