I have always been a fan of Korean protests. They are loud, kinetic, and convivial. People are waving flags, shouting, holding candles. In 2017, I was in Seoul when protesters filled the entire lawn at Gwanghwamun Square and demanded President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment, which they won. Two middle-aged protesters, who had come through the authoritarian era of Chun Doo-hwan, offered me snacks on the grass.
I also observed the counterprotests by conservative Park supporters, who were equally nice. They offered me a Korean flag.
The protesters outside my quarantine hotel aren’t quite as nice. Most nights at around 9-10 pm, they start broadcasting a recorded propaganda track and, the past few nights, they have been giving speeches, too.
It only lasts for 10 minutes to half an hour, and my room is far enough away that it is not too loud. But it’s not the most relaxing time of the day.
What are they protesting? The presence of us foreigners.
It’s not necessarily that we’re foreigners per se. It’s that we might have coronavirus!!!
They just don’t want the quarantined people in their community. (Some people protested the evacuation of Korean citizens from Wuhan earlier.)
Coronavirus is indeed a legitimate concern. But that’s why Korea took aggressive measures, which they have implemented with competence and success, to make sure all foreign arrivals are quarantined. For foreigners without permanent residents, we are put up in hotels for fourteen days (which we pay for), provided with meals and everything so that we don’t have to leave for anything, monitored 24-7, and tested upon arrival.
The virus isn’t coming through these walls.
Actually, Korean citizens who arrive from abroad are treated more laxly. They are quarantined in their own apartments, living nearer to the general population, and, while their whereabouts are tracked by cell phone, it would be much easier for them to leave their quarantine if they so desired.
As I wrote in my article at The National Interest,
There have been 736 new coronavirus cases in Korea in the past two weeks, 38.2 percent of which have been imported cases. In all, there have been 1,791 imported cases recorded, but 72.6 percent of those came from Korean citizens, who are not subject to quarantine at designated hotel facilities. Moreover, the policy of quarantining all arrivals should significantly decrease the possibility that such imported cases are later spread to others.
It cannot be said, however, that Korean protesters are xenophobic. In January, protesters in other cities in the Seoul suburbs threw eggs at officials tasked with evacuating Korean citizens from Wuhan. (The alternatives would have been to either leave their fellow countrymen in Wuhan indefinitely or to let them go free and spread the virus throughout Korea?)
It’s a small price to pay, and, honestly, the protests are not so bad here. Nowhere near as bad as they are at the Ramada.