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Shaken up by the virus (KOR)

Feb 03,2020
KANG HYE-RAN
The author is the deputy head of the popular culture team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The Korean performing arts industry faces another major setback from a pandemic following the hardships it faced during the outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015. “Cancellations are inevitable for public safety, but we may face another tough time,” wrote one official from a performance organization on Facebook.

Musicals targeting children during their winter break have been canceled amid the arrival and spread of the new coronavirus. Group cancellations are on the rise as parents have turned panicky and are opting to keep their children at home instead of sending them to day care.

The scare has hit the performing arts community and movie theaters hard as people choose to stay away from enclosed areas filled with people. Many entertainers have voluntarily canceled fan meetings and public events, and others have called off their activities in China. Ticket sales to theaters plunged 27 percent in June and July 2015, during the peak of the MERS outbreak.

The industry has become smarter after experiencing two pandemics. The Sejong Center for the Performing Arts and other big cultural or exhibitions centers have installed fever-checking cameras at all of their entries. They also have hand sanitizers and masks available at their facilities. The theater that stages the long-running instrumental performance “Nanta” in Myeong-dong, central Seoul, has posted guidelines for virus-preventing actions in multiple languages and makes regular announcements through loudspeakers. The production manager said the theater was taking extra cautionary steps to lessen anxieties for audiences.

Even with the rise of new options through online media platforms like YouTube and Netflix, there is a special joy in going out to a theater or cinema with a crowd, as a communal experience heightens the excitement. Pandemics, however, turn crowds into agents of virus transmission.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to advise people to stay away from crowded places. The guidelines mostly stress individual hygiene. We hope that such sanitizing habits can help the cultural community to weather the challenge.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 30, Page 28