Singaporeans in South Korea worry over rising number of Covid-19 infections

Singaporean Lee Tzyy Ian, 29, with husband Sung Sang-Kyu, 43, and daughter SiEun, three. Their home is near a church where a Covid-19 cluster has emerged, so they have not gone out like before. PHOTO: LEE TZYY IAN
Singaporean Lee Tzyy Ian, 29, with husband Sung Sang-Kyu, 43, and daughter SiEun, three. Their home is near a church where a Covid-19 cluster has emerged, so they have not gone out like before. PHOTO: LEE TZYY IAN

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the lives of billions worldwide, but for Singaporean Lee Tzyy Ian, 29, everyday life in Seoul has been largely unaffected in the past few months.

Ms Lee, who lives in the South Korean capital with her husband Sung Sang-Kyu, 43, and daughter, SiEun, three, could still go out to meet friends for food and drinks while taking standard precautions such as wearing a mask and making sure to wash their hands often.

But after a large Covid-19 cluster emerged at a church near her house earlier this month, the housewife and her daughter have been staying home.

"I have stopped sending my girl to daycare centre for the moment," said Ms Lee.

"My husband still heads out to work like normal but my daughter and I stay at home as we do not know who's infected."

They order their groceries online and get food delivered at home to avoid going out.

Ms Lee and her family are among Singaporeans in Seoul who are getting more concerned about the worsening Covid-19 situation after months of relative calm.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported 308 new coronavirus cases, bringing the country's total to 19,400, including 321 deaths, as of Friday midnight.

Stricter curbs - such as restricting dining in hours and suspending operation of indoor sports facilities - have been announced.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said at least 80 per cent of infections over the past week are from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area and many are linked to the Sarang Jeil Church and a political rally on Aug 15.

Ms Lee, who lives a subway stop away from the Sarang Jeil church, said she was devastated that the outbreak situation is now back to square one.


"My family members in Singapore have been asking me to be careful and to stay safe, as they know it is not easy to fly back now, especially since I have a toddler with me."

Ms Chua Pei Chi, president of the informal Singapore Club Seoul, said she knows of about 350 to 400 Singaporeans who are still staying in the city.

She returned to Singapore last Wednesday to visit her parents and is now quarantined at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

"I think the Singaporean community is beginning to realise that the situation is really getting bad and some of them have decided to push back their plans, just to be safe," she said.

Meanwhile, student Jess Ng, 25, who has been in South Korea for the last seven months, was due to sit for a Korean language proficiency test in Seoul last week, but the exam was cancelled due to the rise in new Covid-19 cases .

"My family has been asking me to fly back but I initially extended my stay to take the exam. Right now, I am just monitoring the flight situation since two of my plane tickets have already been cancelled," she said.

Ms Ng said her life in Seoul has been normal. She stays on her own and still goes out for meals.

But she has seen some people protesting about their right to worship in churches despite the pandemic. Recently, a Covid-19 patient escaped from hospital and was in her neighbourhood.

She added: "I don't think it's sunk in for me that the situation is worsening here in Seoul... as long as they are not locking down the city, I am okay, I guess."

Mr Ken Ng, 50, who runs the Dessert Merlion Singapore Cafe in Hongdae in Seoul, said there are fewer people heading out, with the Covid-19 situation worsening.

"You don't really feel the tension here because there are no strict rules that say you will get fined if you don't do this," he added.

But his business has fallen by about 50 per cent. He is hoping the city can avoid a lockdown so that business will not be further hit.

"As long as I can cover rental and overheads, I am satisfied already," he said.

"Whatever happens, I will think of a way to survive. We have to be optimistic."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2020, with the headline 'S'poreans in South Korea worry over rising number of infections'. Print Edition | Subscribe