Deep Dive: Why Do All the K-Pop Idols Have COVID?

Just a few days ago, our very own KpopWise editor Ciera made a humorous tweet that KpopWise was beginning to feel more like a COVID-19 reporting station, as South Korean idols continue to get diagnosed with the virus.

In recent months, the number of cases of coronavirus in South Korean idols being reported has skyrocketed. Almost every day in March so far has had not one but multiple idols diagnosed with the virus.

It's affected the weekly music shows, as groups have had to pull out from taking part at the last minute, such as Weeekly this week.

It's affected comebacks and debuts as members of the groups or entertainment company staff have been diagnosed, including the debuts of both Kep1er and NMIXX.

And it's even affected the upcoming much-anticipated Mnet survival show "Queendom 2", where members of LOONA were diagnosed with COVID and Mnet was forced to change the rules of the competition.

So, when this pandemic has been going on for almost two and a half years at this point, why are all of the idols suddenly having an explosion of coronavirus cases across the entertainment community? And is there a risk of an idol dying from the disease?

South Korea and COVID-19 cases

Earlier last week, South Korea hit a milestone it hadn't seen throughout the entire pandemic. The country achieved more than 600,000 coronavirus infections recorded in one day, the most of any country in the world on the day.

The explosion in the number of cases in the country comes from the Omicron variant of the virus that began popping up around the world in the last quarter of 2021, which is more transmissible than other variants of the infection.

The reasoning behind not only the large number of cases, but also the proportion compared to the rest of the world, is a complicated picture that doesn't mean the country is failing at keeping the virus at bay. While many other countries are considering the coronavirus to be endemic, that COVID-zero is now a technical impossibility, and populations and governments begin to suffer from pandemic fatigue as the response slowly winds down, South Korea has not taken to a disregard of the virus.

Testing for the virus has wound down in recent months all across the world. For myself living in Australia personally, a massive uptick in cases around Christmas from the Omicron variant led to a national disaster where PCR testing queues were so long people would sleep in their cars overnight, rapid test were rare and price gouged so much they became unaffordable to the masses, and the peak capacity of more than a quarter of a million cases a day meant that experts believed millions of Australians contracted the virus but were never able to test for it. Now, rapid tests are once again available, many mask rules have been abandoned, and pandemic fatigue means most people couldn't tell you how many daily cases there have been since January.

But in South Korea, a consistent deployment of mass testing capable of testing more than a million people a day is key to another of their significant milestones.

South Korea and COVID-19 deaths

Despite the massive cases numbers coming through from the testing, officials believe it's a key reason behind South Korea's incredibly low death rate.

South Korea has one of the lowest coronavirus death rates in the world, despite the ongoing rise in case numbers. It's death rate sits at 0.14%, down from 0.88% at the beginning of the year. For comparison, Mexico's death rate is 5.7%, the United States' death rate is 1.2%, and the United Kingdom's death rate is 0.8%.

The country also has an 88% vaccination rate, and one of the highest booster shot rates in the world.

And despite the daily case numbers increasing by more than 8,000% since January, South Korean hospitalizations have only doubled, with ICU capacity sitting at just 65%.

And while rapid tests are still allowed to be used, if it comes back positive, a South Korean must still go to a government-run PCR testing facility for confirmation, unlike in many other countries where the rapid test is now the main source of reporting.

A spokesperson for the KDCA said:

"It is more ideal to use PCR tests with high accuracy in as many places as we can, yet the adoption of the rapid antigen test is a measure to protect the high-risk group that has a greater risk of getting severely ill."

So what does this mean for idols?

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is still incredibly transmissible, and with case numbers in the country hitting such highs, we can expect more idols to continue to be diagnosed with coronavirus infections.

But idols have everything going in their favour. They're usually quite young, some of the healthiest and fittest people on the planet, and the Omicron variant doesn't cause as many severe reactions or illnesses.

Will an idol succumb to the virus? Probably. Will they become severely ill or die? Probably not.

*The research for this article comes from the Bloomberg article "How One Country Is Beating Covid Despite 600,000 New Cases a Day" by Sangmi Cha.

*For more information on your local coronavirus testing clinics, restrictions, and rules, please visit your national government coronavirus website.

Ford Carter

Ford Carter is an online blogger studying journalism who's hundreds of articles across half a dozen fansites from the music and television industries have now been read more than 300,000 times. From his home in regional Australia, you'll often find him binging kdramas or rewatching old editions of the Eurovision Song Contest.

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