South Korean Economy Appears to Revitalize as COVID Restrictions Ease

By Lisa Bian
Lisa Bian
Lisa Bian
November 4, 2021 Updated: November 4, 2021

On Nov. 1, South Korea began its “coexist with COVID” pandemic prevention model in phases aimed to restore everyday life and order. That night, restaurants in South Korea were filled with customers, and the streets appeared to have regained vitality.

In the past few months, many countries in Asia and Oceania have shifted their strategies to coexist with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus rather than eliminating it. And South Korea is one of the latest additions to implement its “living with COVID” pandemic approach.

On the evening of Nov. 1, an Epoch Times reporter visited Seochon Street near Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul and found that most restaurants were crowded with young customers. The food street appeared to have regained its pre-COVID vitality.

Since implementing the new pandemic prevention model, South Korea has seen a significant spike in international travel bookings. According to Wemakeprice, a South Korean e-commerce platform, its overseas air ticket sales from Oct. 1 to Oct. 25 increased 790 percent compared to the previous month. Nearly 90 percent of customers paid for tickets that depart before the end of this year.

In addition, the 2021 Korea Sale Festa (COSEPE) also started on Nov. 1. COSEPE is South Korea’s largest annual shopping festival, and this year it was organized by the Korean government, the Festa promotion committee, and 17 cities in Korea. It is a simultaneous online and offline sales event that lasts until Nov. 15. More than 2,500 companies participated in this year’s Festa, the most in history.

As South Korea eases its COVID restrictions and reopens the economy, the labor shortage has become an issue for small- and medium-sized enterprises. According to News 1 Korea, South Korea’s Minister of Employment and Labor Ahn Kyung-deok said its government will begin to lift the foreign labor entry restrictions due to the pandemic.

“Entry restrictions will be lifted from the end of November at the latest,” Ahn said Monday, suggesting his ministry plans to expand labor entry to 16 countries.

The New Three-Phase COVID Prevention Model

South Korea’s “coexist with COVID” prevention model consists of three phases, and the first phase will last until Dec. 12. In the first phase, all public facilities except entertainment facilities are allowed to operate 24 hours a day. The maximum number of people permitted to attend private gatherings is 10 in metropolitan areas and 12 in non-metropolitan areas, regardless of vaccination status. Gatherings and events can be held with up to 100 people, with no vaccination requirement.

Large-scale gatherings and activities will be allowed at the beginning of the second phase. The third phase will completely lift the restrictions on private gatherings and fully resume a normal life.

However, if the intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy rates exceed 75 percent, the government will initiate an “emergency plan,” suspending the measures to restore daily life. The emergency plan will implement a “pandemic prevention pass” system, tightening the restrictions on private gatherings, banning visits to nursing homes, conducting virus tests for medical personnel, and securing hospital beds. On Oct. 23, South Korea said it had achieved its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of its 52 million people, according to Reuters.

South Korea hopes the new COVID prevention model can boost its domestic economy amid a global economic downturn. According to KBS World, a South Korean international broadcasting service, South Korea’s exports appear to be in good shape. Its export volume had increased for 12 consecutive months, and its average monthly export volume for the past eight months had exceeded $50 billion. From January to October this year, South Korea’s total export volume reached $523.2 billion, surpassing last year’s annual export volume and achieving $500 billion in exports in a record-breaking time.

However, South Koreans still have reservations about the new prevention model and its effect on the economy. Some experts believe the model has a limited impact on restoring domestic consumption while the rise in international oil prices and raw material prices has led to inflation domestically. And many fear the new model may lead to new uncontainable outbreaks. These uncertainties have brought new challenges to the South Korean government and its economy.

Different Strategies Toward COVID

Governments worldwide generally have two strategies toward the pandemic, “zero COVID” or “coexist with COVID.”

With the Delta variant of the CCP virus having a faster and stronger transmission ability than the original strain, the cost of eliminating the virus in countries increases significantly. Under economic pressure and difficult trade-offs in response to the pandemic, many governments have gradually opted for “mitigation (coexist with COVID)” rather than “elimination (zero COVID).”

Presently, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Israel, Singapore, and many countries in Asia-Pacific have introduced their “coexist with COVID” pandemic prevention model. However, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China still adhere to the “zero COVID” strategy, with Taiwan having the greatest success all around.

The “coexist with COVID” pandemic prevention model aims to treat the CCP virus as a long-term flu-like epidemic instead of a pandemic. Instead of preventing the virus’ spread, many governments have turned to mass vaccination. The focus is no longer to reduce new COVID cases but to focus on the management of critically ill patients.

Lisa Bian