Minju Jung By: Minju Jung
Doctoral Researcher in Politics and International Relations
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12 Oct 2020 : Trip to Korea and the 14-day quarantine

Last Friday, I flew to Korea. Since then, my quarantine life has begun. This quarantine will be remembered as a unique experience, so I would like to record it in this entry. 

The journey to Korea this time was very different from the usual. The airports as well as the flights were exceptionally uncrowded, but it was challenging to wear a mask and a face shield for over twenty hours. In addition, I could not stop being cautious about others, in maintaining social distancing, which made me tired. 

Although there were very few passengers in the plane to Korea, it took a long time to exit the airport. I had to go through many processes. I passed through them like a product on a conveyer belt in a factory. That conveyer belt continued through many stages until I was handed over to my family at the gate of the airport. Every stage was managed by dedicated officers. They checked ones’ body temperature, confirmed the installation of a self-isolation app, verified whether the phone with the app installed was really their own, interviewed to know their health status and asked them about the place where they self-isolate, explain quarantine rules, asked how ones would get home, guided them if they needed to use a transportation that was assigned for passengers who came  from abroad etc. In the end, I was ‘classified’ as a person whose family would pick them up, and, finally, was delivered to my sister. 

I also witnessed a few cases that may have made officers emotionally exhausted. A woman who was identified as having COVID symptoms became temperamental when she was not allowed to leave the airport. Another person expressed anger toward the officers, because he did not have a place to self-isolate and the place where the government recommended was too expensive for him. The officers who dealt with them were kind but looked tired. At that point, I thought that those who have worked at the airport for several months to manage these jobs (as well as other people on the front line in dealing with the pandemic) may have been under stress and facing mental problems.

I have been in self-isolation for two weeks, which is mandatory for a person who enters from abroad. On the day I arrived, I got a few calls from the local infirmary to ask me basic questions and designate an officer who would manage my quarantine. Since then, the infirmary has contacted me via ARS and calls to check if I am OK. Later, at night, the first essential quarantine package was delivered from the local infirmary to my place, which included a thermometer, facial masks, sanitiser gel, disinfectant cleaner and a garbage bag for medical waste. Next day, another parcel for quarantine relief essentials was delivered from the local government including food for two weeks, toiletries, bottles of water, snacks and sweets. I was not eligible for financial support because I do not have a job in Korea, so it was the last quarantine relief that I would receive from the government.

Next morning, on Sunday, the local infirmary contacted me to make a reservation for the COVID-19 test. On Monday morning, I drove to the infirmary to take a COVID-19 test, after reporting this journey that I would take to the infirmary to the officer designated to me. On the way, the app buzzed to inform me that I had gone out of the designated space.                 

The test did not take a long time. Every process was conducted without any contact between the examiner and me. For me, the COVID-19 test was awfully painful!! It was really painful! I can still remember the pain in my nose, and I do not want to take it ever again. A few hours later in the afternoon, the infirmary informed me the test result- it was negative. I felt relieved and happy with the result, because it confirmed that I no longer have to take the test again.

It is the 9th day today since I have entered the 14-day quarantine. My experience of the quarantine began with the installation of the app (which is called “Self-quarantine Safety Protection App”), developed by the Korean government.  I had to install the app at the airport in Manchester, because my flight ticket could not be issued unless I installed the app. It has been mandatory for any person who enters self-isolation to install this app and keep it until the end of their self-isolation.

My life under quarantine has been largely managed by this app. This morning, I woke up listening to the alarm of the app notifying me to check my body temperature. I am supposed to enter my health diagnosis regarding body temperature, sore throat and dyspnea to the app twice a day. It detects my location using the GPS of my cell-phone. I cannot leave the space designated for my self-isolation without the permission of the local infirmary. If I breach this rule, it warns me and notifies my violation to the local infirmary. For me, who loves staying indoors, this has not been an issue. However, this app hinders me in an unexpected way. If the phone is not moved for a long time, the app is designed to send me a warning message and notify the infirmary officer to prevent a person from leaving without permission. So, I move my phone from time to time to avoid a call from the officer. 

Although that app plays a big part in my quarantine, seemingly there is no big difference between my life in the UK and the current self-isolation. I stay in my room alone, have video calls with family to speak to them and eat alone. My living space is limited to my room and the toilet next to the room. But the good thing is I can listen to my parents moving in other areas of the house. They do not come near my space, except to knock on the door of my room to let me know when they leave meals in front of my door. So, listening to the sound of the knock has become an exciting moment. When I need to speak to them in person or just want to see them, we do so by wearing a mask and face shield.

My self-isolation has affected my parents as well. After they knew that I would stay with them, they cancelled gatherings and decided to stay at home until my quarantine ends. Perhaps, they may want my quarantine to end more than I do. 

It has been reported that there are 69 cases today, and the government has eased social restriction. When we have a chat, we talk about where to go when my mandatory (and their voluntary) self-isolation ends. Autumn in Korea is magnificent. My parents and I will be able to go out and enjoy the Autumn. I hope COVID situations in the UK will get better soon. 

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