What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
South Korea is gradually recovering from the recent surge in Covid-19 infections, with new daily cases remaining in the 100–200 range for the past week or so. Amidst the battle to contain the pandemic, a major conflict between the South Korean government and the Korean Medical Association (KMA)—regarding the government’s new policy to train more doctors and establish a public medical school—has resulted in medical students, interns, and residents, as well as some doctors, going on strike. Unfortunately, the strike has not been fondly received by the public, as 55.2% of respondents in a recent survey answered that they did not agree with the doctors’ strike, while only 38.6% held a positive view.
On September 4, the KMA and the government did reach an agreement to restart the negotiations from square one, but it came shortly after a controversial social media post by President Moon Jae-in, thanking the nurses for their service in the medical field:
“I would like to offer words of consolation to the nurses who are silently running the medical field that the doctors, such as interns and residents, have left, and I would like to express my deepest gratitude and respect for your dedication and hard work. How hard and difficult it must be to fight a long battle with Covid-19 and also have to shoulder the burden of doctors who have launched a long-term strike.
I have heard that, on top of this, nurses have to endure criticism and verbal abuse from the patients who are inconvenienced due to the shortage of medical care. I am very saddened when I think of nurses who have to suffer from poor working conditions, increased work, and emotional labor.
During the last heat wave, people’s hearts broke at the sad news that medical personnel were collapsing [from heatstroke and fatigue] because they couldn’t take off their protective suits at outdoor Covid-19 testing facilities. Although they were referred to as medical personnel, people are well aware that most of those staffers were in fact nurses.
Don’t lose your courage and stay strong. I heard that singer IU donated cooling vests. So please don’t forget that we are all with you, as you stand by your patients’ side and overcome difficulties.
The government will look for ways to relieve the difficulties that nurses have and do our best to support an increase in the number of nursing staff, improvement in the work environment, and improvement in the labor conditions. We will promptly start with what we can do right now, such as increasing the number of nursing personnel in public hospitals who are at the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nurses, thank you. I love you.”
— Moon Jae-in, president of the Republic of Korea, September 2, 2020.
Opposition politicians, conservative media, and even the public criticized the president for his “divisive tactics”, which were allegedly attempting to create a rift between doctors and nurses. Korean Young Nurses, a relatively new association established in 2017 by young nurses and nursing students who felt that the Korean Nurses Association was not properly representing their voices, answered Moon’s post with a Facebook post of their own:
We appreciate your recognizing nurses’ hard work.
But if you are in desperate need of medical personnel, please ensure the protection of the medical personnel you already have.
Poor working conditions, increased workload, and emotional labor are not issues that suddenly arose as a result of doctors’ collective action.
Moreover, the way to reduce the difficulties faced by nurses is not in increasing the number of nursing students or in instituting a regional nurse system [to train nurses to work in public hospitals in rural regions for a certain period of time].
Please listen to the voices of real nurses instead of the Korean Nurses Association.
Respectfully, Korean Young Nurses”
— Korean Young Nurses, September 2, 2020.
The Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA) responded to the deal that the KMA reached with the government by continuing their strike for a couple more days, saying that the agreement was reached by ‘KIRA Passing’. Medical students also continued to protest, with only 14% of them signing up for the Korean Medical Licensing Examination (KMLE) that began on September 8, so the whole medical community is now lying in wait to see how the government will proceed, although it did already confirm that no additional opportunities will be given this year to those who did not take the KMLE.
In other news, a lot of people have been experiencing ‘Covid-19 blues’ (or ‘Corona blues’ in Korean). In addition to the Corona blues, a neologism often seen in Korean news is ‘Corona-angry’, describing the people who are becoming more prone to rage due to the prolonged pandemic and social distancing measures imposed by the government. On the morning of August 27, a man in his 50s was asked by a fellow subway rider to put on a mask, as the Seoul Metropolitan Government had made it mandatory from May 13 for all passengers on mass transportation to wear masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19. In a fit of rage, the man who was not wearing a mask used his sandal to slap the passenger who had made the request and even choked another passenger who tried to stop him from continuing the assault. On September 1, a man in his 70s assaulted a Seoul Metro employee for requesting that he wear a mask in order to ride the subway. He returned a couple of days later to assault another employee at the same subway station. Regarding these Corona-angry people, Kim Gyeong-il, professor of Psychology at Ajou University, explained that they are “Corona-ugly” and refused to give into the idea of labeling them as “Corona-angry”.
“When we get angry, we know generally why we are angry, even if it’s for the wrong reason or we’re being unreasonable. Like, because this person shot me a look, or that person was rude to me. But what we call Corona-angry is getting angry for no reason. That means whatever is making them angry has been building up inside that person for a long time. … So when I look at people who say ‘I’m Corona-angry,’ I think ‘They have a lot of anger that has been building up inside over the course of their lives.’… In general, an obvious reason for people getting upset is when someone touches on something very sensitive or serious to them. … So the people who get angry for no reason, either so much that it becomes a social problem or just something trivial on a personal level, are people who are extremely high-strung because they are unable to accept what has been going on for the past six months and the things that they cannot accept are continuing to grow in number. … No matter how much I think about it, they’re not [Corona]-angry. They’re just ugly.”
— Kim Gyeong-il, professor at Ajou University, September 4, 2020.
It seems as though all the news these days is about the pandemic, but the next installment of What They Said will focus on topics unrelated to Covid-19!