In South Korea, Lent and the coronavirus have settled in simultaneously. Although Daegu, about three hours south of Seoul, has been hit far harder, the capital city prepares for the worst.

As Christians spend certain days fasting, or swear off sugar, caffeine, or social media for the season, Seoul shuts down schools and churches, canceling everything from Fashion Week to Ash Wednesday services to BTS concerts.

It’s as if the whole sprawling, frantically productive city has been forced to sit and think. The greater Seoul area houses half of the country’s 50 million people, at twice the population density of New York City. We are accustomed to sardining into subways and buses, standing nose-to-nose with strangers. Now, for the most part, streets lie hushed. Occasionally a pedestrian in the ubiquitous mask wanders by.

Seoulites seek to balance sensible precautions with some semblance of normal life. For all the shuttered restaurants and museums, Costco still hums (how else can we stockpile liters of arctic krill oil?). We attempt to choose factual sources of information like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization over sensationalist clickbait. We do our best to prevent panic from making our decisions. Most patients with COVID-19 recover, after all.

Everyone evaluates how to live wisely. Some fellow expats have quietly evacuated. Those of us who remain receive daily text notifications from the government: Patient No. 40 visited this mall, patient No. 1050 shopped at that supermarket—our supermarket—before diagnosis. It feels like the virus awaits around every corner. Unless necessary, we do not leave our three-bedroom apartment in southeast Seoul.

I spend curiously luxurious days ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.