“Sickness comes in like a horse and leaves like a snail.” This French maxim provides a description of the outbreak of the infectious novel coronavirus disease in 2019 (COVID-19). COVID-19 first emerged in China in December 2019 when an initially inscrutable illness was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The reported illness was later confirmed to be a contemporary type of coronavirus. Because the world is a global village and its residents are interconnected, this virus has spread across the globe to more than 50 countries and has infected a throng of people.
Home to KDI School of Public Policy and Management, South Korea’s first confirmed case was announced on 20th January 2020, nine days to the closure of the spring preliminary session and approximately three weeks to the commencement of the spring 2020 semester. With much zest and excitement, over a hundred new students from more than 20 countries had arrived at KDI School to join continuing students to begin what will be their new life and their academic journey. Sadly, following the transmission of the virus from a super spreader (Patient 31), the number of COVID-19 cases quadrupled and further skyrocketed to the thousands in subsequent weeks. This steep rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in South Korea induced growing safety concerns among residents including students and staff at KDI School.
Nevertheless, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in its Global Health Security Index Report of October 2019, South Korea ranked 9th out of 195 countries studied as being in full preparedness for epidemics and pandemics. Accordingly, South Korea has demonstrated noteworthy endeavors and made significant strides to calm the panic of the general public. One expert suggested that the speed and scope of the nation’s diagnostic competence are unmatched by any country in the world. This is true since it is the only country to pioneer drive-through testing stations and offer free or cheap COVID-19 test to citizens as well as to legal and illegal immigrants without legal repercussions for the latter. These measures have not only encouraged awareness and consciousness of COVID-19 but have also instilled a sense of calm and safety.
KDI School has reflected the spirit of the country by making earnest endeavors to thwart the spread and/or infection of COVID-19, ensure the safety of the campus and allay the fears of students. Regular updates and instructions are provided to all members of KDI School via email and the news center. Several students and staff must have felt a sense of calm when the KDI School nurse published the following kind words of encouragement and caution:
“I know many of you are afraid and concerned about the viral illness that is spreading around the world. Please know that your health is our most important priority and that the school is taking all possible measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Please pay attention to any notice sent from the school, comply with the school policies and utilize available resources around you to monitor your health….”
Mr. Taesub Kim, KDI School Nurse
As early as 28th January 2020, KDI School’s administration established a task force to respond to and deal with any potential outbreak of COVID-19. Disinfection of the entire campus, including dormitories and communal areas has been carried out on three occasions. Once on the 1st of February, before the commencement of the spring semester, another on the 12th of February, immediately after the spring semester started and additional disinfection was conducted on the 29th of February. KDI School recognizes that disinfection is an effective means of curbing the spread of COVID-19 because contamination on surfaces touched by staff and students is a primary mode of transmission of COVID-19. This measure employed by KDI School has contributed immensely to the awareness of and circumspection about COVID-19 amongst students and staff. In response to the school’s disinfection efforts, one student said:
“Upon hearing about the mode of transmission of COVID-19 and the spike in the number of cases, I was gripped with fear. But the school’s disinfection efforts have allayed my fears, increased my personal consciousness and reassured me of KDI School’s care for me. I have no doubt that this is a safe environment and that my life is in good hands.”
Chinny Jin Cruz (2019 MPP)
Nevertheless, KDI School’s endeavors to maintain a safe environment go beyond the disinfection of buildings and communal locations. The school has implemented additional safety actions by suspending all group and club-related activities, distributing facemasks to all residents of the dormitories, installing hand sanitizers at numerous locations and entrances across the campus, setting up mandatory temperature self-check stations and installing thermal imaging cameras at the entrances of the school’s buildings and the dormitories. These safety measures at KDI School have fostered the protection of students and staff against COVID-19. It is of little wonder that Dean Jong-II You, in one of his most recent messages to students and staff,could confidently say:
“I am happy to declare that KDI School can now be considered a ‘safety zone’ where COVID-19 threat is minimal while anything can happen anywhere in the world.”
Dean Jong-II You
Undoubtedly, the well-being and safety of students and staff are of absolute importance to KDI School.
Following the continuous spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in Korea and the exhortation of the Ministry of Education which was predicated upon the advice of Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun to avoid public gatherings, KDI School has taken further drastic actions to protect students and staff against COVID-19. On the 25th of February 2020, the Dean announced the cancellation of classes from the 26th of February to the 3rd of May 2020 while arrangements for the provision of lectures via live streaming were being made. This action was taken to avoid classroom gatherings which was ultimately geared towards reducing the risk of students and staff being infected. Using Zoom Software Solution, which has been recently adopted by KDI School, students and professors are able to join the live stream and participate in lectures. Like the proceedings in a classroom, this real-time conference solution allows students to interact with professors, asking and responding to questions without any direct contact with one another. Thus, safety is ensured without compromising educational activities at KDI School.
However, it goes without saying that the outbreak of COVID-19 and KDI School’s adequate safety measures have, one way or the other, altered the dynamics of student life. Students with a profound love for sports such as soccer and basketball can no longer play weekly. Student club members can no longer meet at will and groups of friends may no longer gather as before to share a meal or coffee. Students and staff must endure the discomfort of wearing facemasks all through the day. Preventing the spread of this outbreak is no easy feat. Almost every facet of students’ lives has been affected. Yet, the Founding Father of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, once said: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In the spirit of these words, regardless of the discomfort that may result from adhering to these interventions, students, staff and alumni of KDI School are grateful for these stringent safety measures and acknowledge that they are meant to protect them. In response to these measures, one student said:
“We appreciate and understand how the school is providing us maximum respect and maintaining our safety without compromising or postponing our study.”
Anwar Abdifatah Bashir (2019 MPP)
The Uzbek community at KDI School also wrote:
“Our Uzbek community expresses its great gratitude to the Government of Korea, the Mayor of Sejong, and of course, the KDI School for the measures taken against the coronavirus. We feel safe at the dormitory, campus, and in Sejong City…From the whole Uzbek community, ‘we are with you South Korea!’”
Uzbekistan Community, KDI School
Certainly, it is an undeniable fact that every safety measure entails crucial cooperation. While KDI School is taking adequate steps to protect students, staff and the environment from the COVID-19 outbreak, cooperation from the students and staff has been remarkable. Students and staff are fully adhering to the safety protocols. Every KDI School member is visibly and frequently using the mandatory temperature self-check, applying hand sanitizers, submitting to thermal imaging when entering the building, wearing facemasks, and avoiding crowded areas and group activities – all while studying to keep up with coursework and performing their professional responsibilities. This sort of cooperation is nothing short of outstanding. The heightened sense of consciousness is further noticeable as students continue to caution one another to be mindful of the disease. In a post to KDI Community on Facebook, Anwar Abdifatah Bashir (MPP Fall 2019) admonished his fellow students:
“For us, we need to follow all advanced precautionary measures which the school has provided for us. This includes not moving around recklessly.”
The increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in South Korea has also attracted solidarity from the media, including the Hwanchusbao, in collaboration with its sister presses Hwanchoo Wang and Global Times, whose Editor-in-Chief Ping Chen (MPP 1998) is an Alumni of KDI School. The article carried the title “한국 힘내세요” (Cheer up Korea). It went on to say, “It is difficult to overcome the epidemic, but spring days will come without fail, cheer up.”
Admittedly, this situation may attempt to sap one’s strength. But solace is gained from knowing that the KDI School family in different parts of the world is cognizant of the struggles and wish South Korea and KDI School well. Still, students and staff anticipate an end to this and are ardently hoping for things to revert to normal as soon as possible and KDI School can buzz with activities and laughter once again.