South Korea’s Third COVID-19 Wave Douses K-pop

Entertainment industry at the centre of 3rd wave . . . 

As South Korea goes through its third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, a new outbreak has upended its entertainment industry. Confirmed cases have been reported in the past several weeks among both on-set staff and celebrities, including some of the more identifiable names to K-pop fans worldwide. Soloist Chungha, members of girl group Everglow, and boy band Up10tion were most recently confirmed positive. Many other artists who have been in contact are undergoing testing and quarantine. While some filming and end-of-year events, including the Blue Dragon Awards, have now been postponed, many others will be carried on as planned with additional safety measures.

Can we still maintain ‘business as usual’?

As the number of daily new cases in Korea surpasses a nine-month high of 600 and continues to rise, many have started to question whether attempting to maintain ‘business as usual’ puts the entertainment industry at undue risk. Although the industry has reacted quickly and moved the majority of face-to-face events online since March, the way performance shows are filmed is becoming particularly concerning. Artists are still mostly forgoing masks during filming, despite sessions lasting upwards of 10 hours. The high number of camera teams, stylists, and other supporting staff members crossing paths in such a tight-knit industry further increases the possibility of COVID-19 exposure and the scope of infection.

Time to tighten measures . . .

South Korea was considered one of the most successful countries in containing the pandemic during the first two waves by rolling out expansive contact-tracing, testing, and quarantining without halting economic activity. As the country grapples with the most severe and quickly-expanding wave so far, ministers warn of an impending shortage of ICU beds and other medical resources if the surge continues. While countries like Canada are preparing to roll-out vaccination programs, in South Korea, those programs could be months away. For the K-pop industry, it may be time to rethink its strategy and step up as a role model to fans worldwide.