Thursday, September 21, 2023
Home » Wearing a Mask in Korea: A Diary

Wearing a Mask in Korea: A Diary

by AcklinEHuey

I see that from June 15, 2020 wearing a mask on public transport became compulsory in Britain. I find this noteworthy after all the resistance and controversy about masks, not to mention endless conflicting information.

Although mask-wearing isn’t new here, I’d never seen absolutely EVERYONE wearing one – until this year.

I’d see a few on days when government text alerts warned about high levels of yellow dust in the air. But now masks have quickly become part of everyday life.

The first time I wore one was back in February, but I admit it was partly due to social pressure. I felt (even more) conspicuous being almost the only person not in a mask.

Public information posters were encouraging everybody to wear them. And suddenly there were mask shortages in the shops.

Anyway, it’s been an odd year watching how countries around the world have dealt with the virus. I’ve been keeping a diary about it all. So, this week I thought I’d share some notes about masks.

JAN 20 

Korea has its first case of coronavirus. 

JAN 30 

An online ‘corona map’ built by a Kyunghee University student now allows anyone to check where the latest patients have been located. (Later a ‘mask map’ will be added to show which chemists have masks in stock.) 

JAN 31

CHINA: Beijing goes into lockdown. 

UK: The first British expats are repatriated from Wuhan and taken to Arrow Park on the Wirral by bus. There’s a photo of the bus which shows the bus driver not wearing a mask or any kind of PPE. But the man next to him on the bus is wearing a full hazmat suit. This doesn’t make any sense.  And it doesn’t bode well.

FEB 12

In Seoul, I’ve got a morning business English class with an executive in his office. He arrives wearing a mask. Says he’s had a dry cough all week, so went to the doctor’s.

He assures me the cough is caused by stress. But due to the coronavirus situation, he’s wearing a mask in the office all day. He doesn’t want his coworkers to be concerned.

FEB 18 

Patient 31, a member of Sincheonji church has been diagnosed positive for the coronavirus in Daegu. (She’ll become a super-spreader.

FEB 20

With the outbreak in Daegu, the situation is more serious now. An infectious diseases specialist stays up all night to design a drive-through test centre for the coronavirus.

Anyone who tests positive has to be tracked and traced and their movements are shared with everyone in the area by text. This is causing some issues with privacy.

FEB 23

KOREA raises the Crisis Alert Level to the highest level 4.

A friend from Singapore asks us to send her some masks as they are having problems buying them over there. But masks are being rationed in the shops here too. We went to the local chemist where we could only buy 5.

I heard the price is usually 500 won but they are now selling for 2,500 won each. I don’t know how much they usually cost as I’ve never bought a mask before.

FEB 24 

Drive-through testing centre opens in Daegu. Daegu has the most cases. Seoul is still relatively ok.

There’s a poster up in our apartment’s lift explaining what to do when you go out: wear a mask, wash your hands with soap for 30 seconds, cough into your sleeve.

coronavirus poster informing the public about what to do

see more from dramasrok about life in Korea on Facebook Pinterest and Instagram 

FEB 25

I’ve been feeling mounting pressure to wear a mask. So I finally wore one today for the first time when I went to Incheon airport to meet a friend. (Flights from Japan are ridiculously cheap right now.)

On the way, one of the government’s warning alerts went off in unison on all the phones in the subway carriage. It was just one of the many daily alerts telling us the whereabouts of another coronavirus patient. But it sounded like an air-raid siren.

Everyone was wearing a mask, except two western men. We made eye contact briefly. It was an odd feeling. You get judged if you wear a mask and judged if you don’t! You’re either irresponsible and selfish or a sheep falling for media scaremongering.

It was weird meeting my friend off the plane wearing a mask. We didn’t know what to do. Should we hug? He said he was the only one on the flight not wearing a mask.

Says he was sitting near the loo and the flight attendants kept going in to there to spray it with disinfectant. The fumes were making him cough. But his coughing seemed to worry the flight attendants who kept asking him if he was alright and trying to get him to wear a mask. 

FEB 27 

There’s a sign up outside the local supermarket announcing that they have sold out of masks. But from tomorrow masks will be available and they will announce how many masks customers can buy. 

FEB 29 

New cases in Korea reach a peak of 909 new cases. 

A notice in Korean has gone up in our lift announcing that someone in our apartment complex has tested positive for the virus.

I’m quite surprised by the amount of detail we are given about the patient. It says which building the patient lives in (it’s not our building) And it names the nearby construction site where the man has been working.

The notice also explains that ‘anti-epidemic sterilization’ has been carried out in the apartment building and places where the patient has been. An ‘epidemiological investigation’ has also been carried out to trace where he went and who he was in contact with.

Residents are asked to put masks on before they go in the lift and to wash their hands as soon as they come home. And if possible use the stairs and not the lift. 


I went to a cafe in a hotel. The staff are wearing masks but obviously the customers have to take theirs off to drink their coffee!

Some flight attendants and a pilot all still in uniform came in to buy takeouts. Their appearance might have inspired me to ponder dreamily about their travels around the world to exotic locations.

Today I just notice that they are not wearing masks even though they have surely just been in a confined space for a long time with lots of other people! Things have changed.


“I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands,”  Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister.  


I had to go to the post office. Everyone working there is wearing a mask. On the door is a sign saying that they don’t sell masks. Clearly customers have been asking about this since there’s been a shortage. 


In Seoul I saw someone driving and wearing a mask. But they were alone in the car with the windows shut. 


Reports say the air in Seoul is so much better these days. But we are meant to wear masks when we go out anyway. Oh the irony. 


Masks are rationed!

I saw a huge line outside the chemist’s. It was over 100 metres long. Not sure why there’s a queue at 2:30pm in the afternoon. 

Just found out it’s because the government has put a limit on how many masks a person can buy from the chemist’s.

From today, it’s two masks per person per week.

To stop even longer queues, you have to go on your designated day which is decided by your year of birth. My day is Friday. You have to show your ID card and health insurance card.  The government is controlling the price of the masks so they cost the same in all chemist’s.

people queuing to buy a mask

see more from dramasrok about life in Korea on Facebook Pinterest and Instagram 


The WHO declares this a pandemic. 

UK: Matt Hancock the health minister has the virus. 

Here there have been lots of complaints about the lack of masks in shops. Young men doing their national service have been roped in to making masks as there aren’t enough to go around. 

App developers are launching ‘mask maps’ using data shared by thousands of chemists around the country. So now anyone can check the chemists in their local area and how many masks they have in stock. 


NO international flights came in or left Incheon airport for the first time ever. 

UK abandons routine testing. Boris tells the nation that anyone with symptoms should self isolate for a week. 


A Korean was punched in the face in NY for NOT wearing a mask! It seems you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. 


UK: I see toilet rolls and pasta have been disappearing from the shelves. 


There are now special entry procedures for travellers arriving from all over the world. Temperature screening and Special Quarantine Declaration for everyone.


An article appears in the newspaper stating that any foreigner who breaks the rules about self-isolating faces deportation.

Meanwhile, there are more articles about Asian people being attacked abroad


UK: Boris Johnson has the coronavirus. 

Here a mother and daughter make the headlines after testing positive for the virus.

The daughter had just come back from studying in the US and should have self-isolated for two weeks. But she went on a holiday to Jeju Island with her mother instead!

“People are saying this is the best time to travel Jeju. They say it’s cheap and there’s no need to wear a mask. This makes me so angry,” said a local mum.

They travelled all over the island even though the daughter had started to feel unwell. Then tested positive after coming back to Seoul.

Jeju will sue them for compensation as lots of businesses had to close for cleaning and all those they had contact with went into quarantine.


It’s cherry blossom season but the festival has been cancelled. I see people taking selfies under the cherry blossom with masks on.


USA: President Trump has told the US public to wear some sort of scarf when going out. And that a scarf may be better than a mask.


USA: The American public is being advised NOT to drink bleach after President Trump suggested something about injecting disinfectant to cure the virus at his press conference.

helpers at Jogyesa temple are wearing a mask and offering hand sanitiser

At Jogyesa temple in Seoul, ladies in hanbok and masks and gloves offer hand gel at the temple entrance. A monk in grey robes walked past in a white mask.

I have learned how to say social distancing in Korean: 사회적 거리두기


We went to a market in Seokcho on the east coast. There was a huge queue at the famous fried chicken shop. It’s so hot today and I was feeling pretty stuffy in my mask. The staff in the shop must be boiling. (see pic below)

But there is a sense of anonymity behind the mask.

I don’t normally like to take photos of people’s faces without asking. But it seems ok when the face is disguised with a mask anyway. So I took some pics of the stalls in the market.

staff in the chicken shop

An enlightening article in Time magazine about why Korea has been so successful dealing with the virus. Turns out the plan was based on an American doctor’s research after 9/11 to deal with a possible biochemical attack.

MAY 11 

Just as it seems everything can get back to normal, there’s another cluster outbreak. This time it’s clubbers in Itaewon in Seoul.

MAY 13 

From today everyone MUST wear a face mask in Seoul subway trains during rush hour. (Actually, I thought we already had to wear masks. Everyone has been wearing them anyway!)

wearing a mask on the subway is compulsory
MAY 19 

It seems that the mask is such a novelty in the West that there have been lots of memes and new designs of masks. I haven’t seen much fun stuff like that here.

MAY 26

A quarantine violator has been sent to prison (for 4 months). A man in his 20s. Several foreigners have also been deported for refusing to follow the rules.


I saw a lady in a pink dress wearing a matching pink mask. 


The WHO now says everyone should wear a mask in places where social distancing rules can’t be observed. 

JUNE 15 

UK: Face masks become compulsory on public transport.  

I’ve stopped wearing makeup. It just stains the inside of the mask anyway. And I’m starting to get used to wearing the mask. It’s almost comforting as other people can’t see your face. I’m not the only one. So I wonder if we will ever get back to not wearing a mask in public places?

see more from dramasrok about life in Korea on Facebook Pinterest and Instagram 

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