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Anthony Kuhn

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For months, South Korea has been praised as a model and a beacon of hope for the world in its desperate fight to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

"Stop the infection from spreading!"

The words appear to come straight from the beak of a creature with a bird's head, human hair and a fish's scaly body, in a recent public service announcement from Japan's health ministry.

In an early demonstration of how a government's response to an epidemic can alter the political landscape, South Korea's ruling, center-left Democratic Party scored a landslide victory in legislative elections Wednesday, largely on the strength of its success in tackling COVID-19.

Elections for South Korean National Assembly typically feature low voter turnout, but this year, the numbers jumped, with roughly two-thirds of eligible voters participating, the highest level in nearly three decades.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is preparing to declare modern Japan's first-ever state of emergency in response to a sudden increase in novel coronavirus cases in the capital, Tokyo, and several of the country's other major cities.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Authorities around the world have issued their own guidelines and rules designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. And as they've sought to enforce these rules, some efforts have sparked backlash and concerns about privacy.

Wednesday marked the first day of a furlough of roughly half the 9,000-strong Korean workforce staffing U.S. military bases in South Korea. The layoffs without pay — the first in the history of the seven-decade U.S.-South Korea alliance — were forced by an impasse between the two countries on paying for the cost of stationing some 28,500 American troops in South Korea.

Japan's government on Monday resisted calls to declare a national state of emergency, despite a recent spike in confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Tokyo and warnings of further exponential growth.

"It's not true that the government is planning on declaring a state of emergency from April 1," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters, refuting rumors.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe finally conceded that the COVID-19 epidemic might force the postponement of this summer's Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to start four months from now.

Speaking before Parliament, Abe reacted to a Sunday statement by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which said that over the next four weeks it would consider alternative scenarios for the Games, including postponement, but not cancellation.

If you roll up to a drive-through COVID-19 testing center in South Korea, you might notice that safety procedures extend all the way to your car's air conditioning. You will be advised to hit the recirculation button so that if you're sick, you can keep your pathogens to yourself, in your car, and avoid infecting the medical personnel doing the testing.

The test takes 10 minutes at most. Results are texted to you, usually the next day. And it's free — paid for by the government.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The city of Daegu, about 150 miles southeast of Seoul, has long been a bustling industrial center and transport hub, home to 2.5 million South Koreans. But lately Daegu has become a shadow of its usual self. "It actually looks like a scene from a disaster movie," says Dr. Lee Jun-yeup, communications director for the Daegu Medical Association. "Streets are empty, restaurants and shops closed. People stock up on instant noodles because they want to avoid going out."

South Korea's government says it is in a critical struggle to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus from the disease's epicenter in Daegu. It has given itself four weeks to stabilize the situation in the city of 2.5 million, some 150 miles southeast of the capital, Seoul.

"If authorities fail to contain the spread of the COVID-19 in Daegu, there is a high possibility that COVID-19 could spread nationwide," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters on Monday.

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